ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Nineteen: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km

Today finds us— or rather, them— tackling the longest climb of this year’s Tour de France. And it’s not even their first climb. Immediately upon departing this morning, the riders start the slog up Col du Chaussy. The peloton separates several times over, but hey, that’s a mountain stage for you. The day starts sunny and blistering hot, but soon enough, the guys ride into a light rain, followed by clouds.

The group of Tour leaders is all together on the endless ascent of Col de la Croix-de-Fer— a Hors Categorie, 22.4km climb at a 6.9% gradient— as usual, when suddenly, Chris Froome starts looking down at his wheel. He’s obviously got a mechanical. Sure enough, he pulls over to the left, to step off the bike and fix whatever’s wrong. But as he’s moving over, Vincenzo Nibali looks over his shoulder. Once. Twice. And then he launches an attack, and he’s gone.

That was an asshole move.

See, here’s the thing. Cycling has a history, and a code. There are rules, and there are codes. One of the biggest is that you don’t attack when the Yellow Jersey or the peloton as a whole has a problem that’s beyond their control. Not when there’s a stretch of open road, sparsely spectator’d, when many riders will take what is euphemistically called “a natural break.” (Also by gentleman’s agreement, the helicopters and ground cameras will never show this.) You don’t attack in a feed zone. And you don’t attack when the Tour leader has a mechanical. Nibali is far enough down right now that he has very little chance of overtaking Froome in the GC. But that’s not the point. It’s barbaric. Am I a snob? Sure. Whatever.

Anyway. Pierre Rolland is out front by several minutes, and as he screams around the hairpins of the descent of Col de la Croix-de-Fer, it’s both a thing of beauty and a thing of abject terror. He’s tucked into that aerodynamic position that has him down off the seat, then he’s leaning unto curves with one knee all the way out— he’s all over the bike. But for all that, Nibali is gaining on him. Rolland has about two minutes on the Yellow Jersey, and it looks like Nibali will soon join him.

The arguments amongst the commentators— Chris Vandevelde, Phil Ligett, Bobke, and Jens Voight— are fierce about the sportsmanship of Nibali. Chris thinks it’s a smart move, Jens isn’t having any of it. Phil just seems pleased there’s a debate about it, but he’s a man with a healthy respect for tradition.

Froome’s group is coming down the mountain now, and there’s a shot of the man himself having what looks like some pretty stiff words for Alejandro Valverde, who joined Nibali on the attack, but was subsequently caught. I really, really do NOT want to know what’s being said. Neither man looks happy.

Pierre Rolland makes it over the top of the third climb, Col du Mallard, bare seconds before Nibali. Two minutes later, Roman Bardet, yesterday’s stage winner, breaks free from the Yellow Jersey group to claim the third spot, and grab the King of the Mountains jersey into the bargain. I am enormously pleased, as the riders make their way through yet another gorgeous little French village, to see Didi Senft, the Devil of the Alps, there on the side of the road, looking like a particularly demented Santa. I used to think the guy was just another nut dressing up and being a clown on the side of the road. Well, now I KNOW he’s a nut, but man, I’m glad to see him every year. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didi_Senft)

Back to the action: Rolland and Nibali are working together now, and Roman Bardet is trying to catch them. Unfortunately, he’s having some kind of trouble with his bike. But this is a descent, and it’s dangerous for everyone. His team car is having a hell of a time getting through the stretched, speeding race to get to him for help. Thankfully, they manage it in the end, though as we see a flashback of Bardet getting his new bike from the car, the commentators are talking about Alberto Contador getting a new bike. I’m baffled for a second, until the camera switches to Contador being launched up the road by his mechanic. It’s theorized that this was planned move, to give him a lighter bike as the main contenders begin the fourth climb of the day: La Toussuire. It’s only a Cat 1 climb, but it’s the bloody FOURTH.

Oh! Rolland has bonked! It’s a horrible thing to see: he’s gone from easily pacing Nibali to watching the Italian disappear into the distance, while he himself looks like he’s cycling through a tank of Jell-o. Ouf. Well, the GC leaders groups two minutes back: maybe being with them will carry him.

Nibali’s lead is up to 2.22, and he’s moved himself from an eight-minute deficit to third place in the GC. This is why I never take anything for granted before the mountains.

Rolland is still away, but only barely. His face looks relaxed now, and it’s obvious he’s accepted the inevitable. It’s also looking like no one is going to be able to catch Nibali before the end. The Comment Crew has gone from discussing his unsportsmanlike behaviour to waxing rhapsodic over his strength and tenacity. I guess I just hold grudges longer. Though yes, I do have to admit I feel no small measure of respect for a guy who wants to show the world why he’s wearing a number 1 on his back.

The GC group has hit a small almost-plateau at about 4,000 feet before the rest of the steep climb to the finish line. Though it’s still uphill, these guys are speeding as if it were a flat.

The climb begins again for the GC group, and Froome has lost his last lieutenant on the road. But then, all of a sudden, Nairo Quintana, who said he’d make his move on the last climb, does it. Contador starts the chase, but Froome moves, too. It’s too much for Contador and Valverde— they crack, leaving Froome alone to chase the young Colombian. Froome knows damned well he can’t let Quintana get away. A few seconds ahead won’t change any standings, but this is the Tour, and you don’t get careless.

Nibali crosses under the 4km-to-the-end banner, and he’s all by himself. Quintana knows he’s there, and is determined to get as close as possible. He’s only 1.20 back, with Froome fifteen seconds behind him. Froome’s shoulders are moving back and forth. he’s up out of the saddle— his usual calm complacency is nowhere to be seen right now. He won’t give up anything. Not a shred.

Nibali is under the red kite now, going, going, into the final turns, going, going, the crowd going crazy and pounding on the barrier boards. Nibali has his silver cross in his teeth— and then he sits up, arms out, roaring, and crossing the line alone.

44 seconds later, it’s Quintana. And then Froome is there, alone, absolutely burning to keep the damage to a minimum, and show the world the stern stuff of which he’s made.

Valverde, Thibaud Pinot, Contador, Roman Bardet— a group of seven, and then, behind them, an exhausted Pierre Rolland.

So here we are, now. Froome has a lead of 2.38, and I’m thinking, with as strong as he’s still looking, he’s probably going to be fine. His wingman Geraint Thomas? Well, today was not his day, and tomorrow won’t be, either. “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail,” he said of his day running on empty. “Today I was just a cheap little IKEA nail.”

Tomorrow…man, if he doesn’t manage to fully recover overnight, he's not even going to be a thumbtack. Why? Because tomorrow, the main attraction is one of the most legendary climbs in all of cycling: l’Alpe d’Huez. What’s that, you say? Well, as Wikipedia tells us: “The climb to the summit starts at Le Bourg d'Oisans in the Romanche valley. The climb goes via the D211 from where the distance to the summit (at 1,860 m (6,102 ft)) is 13.8 km (8.6 mi), with an average gradient of 8.1%, with 21 hairpin bends and a maximum gradient of 13%.”

It is a monster, and I cannot wait.

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Eighteen: Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 186.5km

There are happy reasons to leave the Tour. It’s rare, but it happens, like when a rider’s partner is in labour. It happened this week: Greg van Avermaet, who won Stage Thirteen, was a DNS for Stage Sixteen, and good luck to the happy family.

But there are also utterly heartbreaking reasons to leave the Tour, and that’s what happened yesterday. BMC rider Tejay Van Garderen was forced to abandon in the middle of yesterday’s race. He was inconsolable: openly in tears as his team’s staff gathered around him, touching his shoulders, hugging him, and eventually helping him to the team car. He had been battling ill health for a few days, but was in a strong third— third! With a realistic hope for a podium finish in Paris!— before he suddenly seemed to crumble out on the road, falling back, rallying, falling back again, and finally being forced to abandon. I am utterly gutted for him.

As ever, there can be as much joy as agony, and the brilliant end of yesterday’s stage was a bit of a balm. German rider Simon Geschke managed to break away from everyone else, and cross the line all alone. It’s the biggest win in the 29-year-old, lumberjack-bearded rider’s career, and when he was interviewed backstage, post-stage, he started fine, and within seconds of talking about his win, broke down sobbing in joy and disbelief. Beautiful.

Today is our second day in the Alps, and though I’m a bit late to the party yet again, I’m in time to see something that tells me exactly how devoted to the Tour I’ve become: the climb up Lacets de Montvernier. This road is 3km long, and 400m high. In other words, it’s a piece of wet spaghetti, laid down in asphalt against the nearly vertical green face of the mountain. it is SEVENTEEN HAIRPIN SWITCHBACKS, and all I can do is stare at it like it’s David Tennant reclining in my bed with a cup of tea, a pillow, and not a stitch on. (Imagine, for my purposes, he’s not married with several delightful children. Or he’s poly.) I am breathless, staring at it. That may make me a bit of a sadist, but I don’t even care. This is a new road for the Tour (though built around 1928), and I’m hoping we see it many times in the future.

Romain Bardet is all by himself at the front of the race, almost literally: no spectators’ cars are allowed on this part of the route, and there are very, very few people fanatic enough to climb up on foot. Once the road widens and levels a bit, however, with fields on either side, there are the delighted fans to cheer him on. He’s got 41 seconds on everyone else as he crosses the line demarcating the top of the climb.

All of the top-placed men are together in one group, but they are not coexisting peacefully. Nibali is trying to pull away, but Contador and Valverde are right there. Froome is cool and collected behind them, just waiting for the attempt to fail and the group to re-form, as it almost always does. He’ll let everyone else wear themselves out. He’s got his eyes on the main prize, and it’s only a few days away.

Bardet is screaming down the road, so aerodynamic, and leaning so far into the sweeping curves that the motorcycle filming him literally cannot keep up with him. Pierre Roland of Europcar is 42 seconds behind him. The French would LOVE to have a one-two win today. And unless Bardet somehow explodes, or eagles come to pluck him off the road, or there’s a sudden terrorist attack, he’s got the win. Under the 1km kite, and up another small climb, and the AG2R rider breaks into a huge grin. The crowds are pounding rhythmically on the boards that line the finish line barricades, and their fanatical screams are deafening. Bardet looks behind him to see nothing but the official’s car and Tour motorcycles. He zips up his jersey to show his sponsor’s logo, pumps the air, and sits up, holding his head in disbelief. His joy is palpable. He is a quiet, young rider, and this is his first-ever Tour stage win. He is also now tenth overall, and the highest-placed Frenchman. It’s a good day.

Pierre Roland follows him 30 seconds later, and all of France is happy. Movistar’s Winner Anacona is third, and who can beat that name? Jacob Fuglsang comes in fifth*, and that’s a relief, as a camera back on the mountain showed him on the floor out of absolutely nowhere. Interviewed after the line, drinking methodically from a bottle of Pellegrini, the Danish Astana rider is asked what happened. He replies that a camera motorbike took him out from behind, and he had no clue it was coming. “The driver should be glad he’s nowhere near me,” he says. “Are you hurt?” he’s asked. He raises his arm: dried rivers of blood from his elbow down to his wrist. So…that’s a yes, then?

We’re only a few days from Paris, and I honestly think it’s going to take something really major that I won’t want to see to keep Chris Froome off the top step. For that reason alone, I really hope he wins. He and Team Sky have been methodical and tenacious, and by G-d, they’ve earned it on every inch of this road.

So we’re getting close. Very, very close. It’ll all be over on Sunday. I can’t wait.

*Bob Jungels of Trek Factory Racing is fourth, for completion’s sake.

Here, as a visual aid, is Lacets de Montvernier. Isn't it hot?

(Cycling Weekly)
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Sixteen: Bourg-de-Peage to Gap, 201km/125m

Col du Cabre: 3,871-foot climb. Max 8.6% grade. 9.1km. The leading group today is 10-plus minutes ahead, starting that ride up. It’s a hot, sunny day, but Team Sky is leading the peloton, and they are completely unconcerned. There is a shot of an AG2R rider, however, with a panty-hose leg full of ice nestled in the concave back curve of his helmet. Smart man. Many riders have opened their jerseys, and not to get a tan.

The gap rises to nearly twelve and a half minutes now. The peloton is still not pursuing. The problem, however, is that this is only the first climb. There’s a steep descent, and then, immediately, another climb. Any team who doesn’t have a rider in that first group can pretty much forget moving their guys up the GC. Sky doesn’t care: no one in that front group is close enough to challenge him for Yellow.

Augh! There’s a small crash, and one of the riders down is Stage 11-winner Rafael Majka. It’s a slow crash, which means it’s going to be more damaging: a fast crash disperses energy as you roll or slide down the road. A slow crash means everything stays in your body. Poor guy! There’s a fairly definitive flow of blood from his left knee down his calf, but he’s back on the bike, holding on to the race doctor’s car as she cleans and tends the wound. Majak has to get back to the peloton— his Saxo-Tinkoff teammate Alberto Contador will need him.

The leading group is on the descent, now, and this is the part that always terrifies me. The riders will come forward off their seats, crouched low on the crossbar, behind the handlebars, keeping as aerodynamic as possible— at 70kmph. The camera cuts to Green Jersey-wearer Peter Sagan, who is FLYING down the mountain. It’s obvious— to former superstar and now-commentator Jens Voight— that he is having a blast, doing what he does so well. Soon enough, though, he’s back with his group, having bit of a chat with the other riders. He’s having a fun day, it seems.

Down the next descent, the Tour organisers have hosed down the road, apparently trying to clear off some of the dust, and lower the temperature of the tarmac. 2003 is mentioned again and again today: the year the road was so hot, riders’ tires literally stuck to the melted road, causing an accident that resulted in Lance Armstrong coming right off his bike— mostly voluntarily— picking up his bike, running across a short stretch of field, jumping a ditch, and rejoining the race. It’s a clip that was shown on every sports segment on every news channel, over and over again. Far more seriously, however, the rider whose horrific, out of control crash he was avoiding was second-placed Joseba Beloki, who suffered serious injuries— double-broken femur, broken wrist, and a broken elbow. Though he raced again, he never fully recovered from his injuries, and retired just three years later in 2006. (There is jaw-dropping, but ultimately terrible, footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=50&v=h_8m5-sR6I4 )

Two riders, now, Adam Hansen of Lotto Soudal and Marco Haller of Katusha, have gone off the front of the lead group. Hansen had a nasty crash in the rain on Stage Two of our show, so a win for him would be pretty incredible.

Closeup of Chris Froome’s new bike: there’s a charging rhinoceros on it: the African rider is campaigning against poaching. Good for him!

Oh, so there IS a potential change if the lead group stays away: enough MTM-Qhubeka riders are in it that if they stay away, they will take the lead in the team standings away from Team MoviStar. But Sky is on the front of the peloton, and this isn’t a concern for them at all.

The lead two are a minute ahead, already on the climb up the Col du Manse. Surprisingly, Peter Sagan is pushing the pace of the chase group. The peloton is now NINETEEN MINUTES back. Crazy.

The 9km climb starts, and the first two riders are only 23 seconds ahead. The catch is pretty much inevitable now, as— yup, the challenges for getting to the top first begin. Haller fights back, but it’s a brief, final protest. Spaniard Ruben Plaza of Lampre attacks, managing to get some daylight on the rapidly-fracturing front group. He’s a good climber, and if he can get over the summit first, this could well be his stage. 30 seconds’ lead so far.

There are four riders chasing him, and one of them is Peter Sagan. Daniel Teklehaimanot of MTM Qhubeka is there, too. Christophe Riblon of AG2R. Simon Geschke of Giant-Alpecin. Riblon tries an attack— Sagan is on it, though, and it doesn’t last long. In fact, it looks like they’ll all be caught by yet more riders in a minute. Yup. As we go under the 15km flag, Plaza is the sole leader by 54 seconds, with a chase group of nine in pursuit.

Plaza has crossed the summit. If he can descend well and safely, it’ll be his first ever Tour de France stage win. Sagan leads the group of nine over the summit line 57 seconds behind. Plaza goes under the 10km banner, pedalling furiously. There are, we’re told, three roundabouts in the town of Gap that the riders need to navigate before crossing the finish line. Ugh.

Plaza knows this route— he’s raced her before. But that doesn’t stop him from nearly spilling as his wheels lock up for a heart-stopping second. Augh! Peter Sagan nearly overshoots a curve. Yikes! But both men are back in control within a second, and Sagan is showing all his formidable descending skills. There’s a Colombian rider, Pantano, with him— a high finish would be great for him on Colombian Independence Day. And it’s his first Tour de France! Pretty impressive! Sagan manages to drop him, finally, but Plaza is 450 meters ahead, and Sagan will never catch him in the remaining 3km.

Sure enough, he’s under the red 1km banner. He’s all alone, followed by the red officials’ car, a Mavic car, and his team car, along with several motorcycles. Plaza sits up, zips up his jersey, pumps the air with a huge grin. He took his risks, and he won. Well done! Sagan follows, pounding his chest in frustration or relief. Pantano is behind him, slumping over his handlebars as soon as he crosses.

That’s the stage, but it’s not the race.

Half an hour back, perhaps a dozen riders are trying to beat each other up. I see Froome and Quintana, Contador, Valverde, Van Garderen. Contador is trying to break away, but Froome’s complacency has vanished. Nibali tries his attack, next, and makes some space. He gets over the summit line alone— he wants to claw back as much time as he can. He still wears the number One, from winning the Tour last year. Valverde attacks, but everyone is on his tail immediately. No one is giving an inch.

They’re on the descent now, and this is where it gets dangerous. Nibali is 13 seconds ahead, but the real problem is the road itself. It is wickedly curvy, and there are ominous dark patches where the road is literally melting. It is terrifying.

AUGH! Sure enough, Warren Barguil comes into the turn too fast, loses control, wobbles, and shoulders right into Geraint Thomas on a sharp curve. Thomas is helpless to stop, and he FLIES off the course, through the tapes on the side of the road, and slams his head and shoulder into a telephone pole. He spins down violently into a ditch in the shadows of the trees, and spectators leap to help him. I feel sick.

None of the other riders can stop, of course. There are nine of them now chasing Nibali, who has a lead of 22 seconds. They’re all of them down on the flat entry to Gap. I can’t stop thinking about Thomas. I’ve been in love with his name for years— that’s why I used it in my book— and he’s always come off as a great guy, as well as a great rider. This is why helmets are mandatory. I hope it’s enough.

…The hell?

He is back on his bike. He’s still racing. He’s 40 seconds back and trying to catch up. He’s still going! JESUS CHRIST.

Nibali crosses the line, looking back to see who’s there. No one. The other nine riders come in after a brief battle.

And there is Thomas, with a Sky teammate, and he is RIGHT THERE. There isn’t a mark on him, thank G-d, and incredibly, it looks like he won’t even have harmed his sixth-overall place in the GC. Mother of G-d. This man is my hero.

Post-race commentary reminds me, now, why I remember Warren Barguil’s name. Remember that catastrophic horror of a crash on Day Three? The one that wrapped 35 guys around a lamppost? The one that fucking broke Fabian Cancellara’s back? Yeah. Guess who started that fucking train wreck? Oh, man. Dude? You’d better watch your back for a nice, long time.

There’s an interview with Geraint after the stage, and I SWEAR TO G-D, he is describing the accident as ANNOYING. He is ANNOYED. No, he’s fine, he says— some French people helped him get up, and he just got back on his bike and kept going. He is ANNOYED. Holy Jesus. He took a telephone pole to the HEAD. I’m amazed he’s not DEAD.

Barguil releases a statement: he says he was trying to pass Tejay Van Garderen, who shouldered him off. He lost his grip on his brakes, and thereby lost control. He’s very sorry, he says. Dude. Did you seriously just try to to push blame off on Tejay? Oh, you are an IDIOT. As Bobke et al state, there’s a pecking order on the road, and while you don’t try to push past other riders in a dangerous, technical descent, you especially don’t try that on older, higher-placed riders. Especially not in your first damned Tour de France.

Sigh. I love my race. Who needs dramas when you’ve got this?
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Seven, Livarot to Fougères , 190.5km, 118m

Tuned in late tonight just in time to see a pretty incredible Go-Pro video I’ve never seen before: a mechanic trying to get his guys back on the road after the horrific crash at the lamppost on the third day. The one that broke Fabian Cancellara’s back? Yeah. That one. It’s insanity for these miracle workers, and they navigate it all in triple-time. This particular guy worked his wonders while rattling off commands, questions, and directions in French, Italian, and English. Wow.

So we’re back in the sunlight (it was noonish in France when this was shot), and out in beautiful fields. Today, we’re changing it up a bit: we have FIVE guys out in front. 189 men, total. One more rider taken out by the aforementioned crash: he’d been riding for three days with a rib broken in two places, and was finally a DNS this morning. These guys scare the hell out of me.

The peloton is picking up the pace a bit— 40kmph— and stringing out down the long, not-entirely-flat, gently curving lanes. It’s a gorgeous visual: riders evenly spaced against the green fields. But it means they’re beginning to put the screws to the front five, which includes the Tour’s current star Daniel Teklehaimanot, the Eritrean rider in the Polka-Dot Jersey. The group has about a minute on them, and for now, they’re holding. We have 73km to go, and the countryside is…Jesus. It’s gorgeous. Every year around this time, I want to pack up and go to France. Maybe rent a helicopter, follow the race’s route, and actually land and explore some of these staggering chateaux and villages. Ooo, and pet the horses. Cos there are always horses.

OMG. Saxo-Tinkoff’s domestique is wearing one of the most “Why Didn’t I Think Of That” things I have ever seen: a vest with pockets all over the back for water bottles. Since cars can’t get into the peloton to restock riders, one member of the team will drop back through the peloton to the caravan, take as many water bottles as he can carry, and catch back up to his teammates to distribute them. Usually, he drops them down the back of his jersey, which makes him look like a particularly bumpy turtle. I always think, “Eugrgh. Sweaty plastic. Thanks.” But this guy has a vest with big old pockets— almost like a flak jacket or photographers vest. Of course, it shoots his aerodynamics to hell, but hey, everyone will have water while he wears it! And it won’t be slimy and slightly warm!

Speaking of jerseys, we have no Maillot Jaune today, since Tony Martin wasn’t there to sign in. I believe, technically, Chris Froome could have made a case to wear it, but cycling is a very mannered sport, believe it or not, and no rider wants to wear a jersey he didn’t win fair and square. If Chris maintains his lead today— and it looks like he will— he’ll have it at the podium at the end, where it’ll be bestowed upon him with cheers, a big crowd, flowers, and a stuffed lion.

Here’s a better explanation from Barry Glendenning in today’s Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/jul/10/mark-cavendish-tour-de-france-stage-seven-win-cycling):

“In Martin’s absence Chris Froome took over as race leader but did not don the yellow jersey until after the stage, as dictated by historical precedent and the president of the commissaires’ panel. Indeed, even if Froome had been given the option of wearing the maillot jaune, the Sky rider said it is not a garment in which he would have felt comfortable under the circumstances. ‘Out of respect for Tony I would never have worn it in any case,’ he said. ‘That’s not the way to get the yellow jersey due to someone else’s misfortunes. I was second on the GC so there was no way to wear it.’”

Okay, there’s a castle, with towers, and a guy on a rope between the towers, and he’s gotta be 40 feet in the air, and…what? Buh? Dude, that does NOT look safe.

Anyway. The chase is down to 39 seconds behind the five leaders. Teklehaimanot has done what he wanted to today: gotten another point in the King of the Mountains competition, which should keep him in polka dots through tomorrow.

Sigh. Filmed statement from Tony Martin: he really wanted to honour the Jersey just by starting today, but the doctor said absolutely not. So by the time you read this, he’s recuperating from surgery on an open fracture (as in, through the skin) in Hamburg, Germany. Six weeks, no racing at all, then he’ll aim for the World Championships in Virginia in September. You know: NO BIG DEAL. Jesus Christ. Apparently, he spent the entire ambulance ride begging the doctor to find a way to just let him start today. Just start! But no. He got a champagne toast from his teammates at the hotel last night, and a big cheer, before going back to Germany, accompanied by his mom. A “roller coaster,” he called this race. “Like a movie.” I’d ask for a better screenwriter, honey. You deserve more than this.

We’re hopefully heading towards a big sprint finish today, and I keep hearing Mark Cavendish’s name over and over. I’ve missed you, Mark— can you give your battered team a lift today? He’s safe in the peloton now, as it cruises through yet another OMG gorgeous French country town. (Amusingly, the closed-captioning won’t TOUCH the name.) The roads have widened a little as we leave the last buildings behind, past straggling car parks and— now I’m looking at a giant red, white, and blue bird made of people, with flapping wings. Out in a field, outside the town. The look on my face…they’d be gratified, I’m sure. Or call me a soulless American.

Aww. Teklehaimanot has dropped off the five front-runners, accepting the inevitable before the crazy that will ensue when the peloton catches up. One of the remaining riders apparently said he intended to “leave an impression on the road today.” What an…interesting choice of words, mister.

The remaining four are indeed starting to shake things up, challenging and answering each other.

(Photo of Tony Martin, who had surgery at 6am, sitting up in his hospital bed, flashing a V at the camera, while the Tour plays on a tiny TV at his bedside. I’m amazed he isn’t up fighting bears or rescuing kittens or something.)

Another giant agriculture bike on the side of the road, though the rider’s head seems a bit…truncated. Seems they ran out of field. Kind of creepy.

Bretagne-Séché Environnement riders Anthony Delaplace and Brice Feillu; a Lampre rider, Kristijan Durasek; and a Cofidis rider, Luis Ángel Maté: those are our still-suffering heroes today. I know they’re gonna get caught in a minute or so. Still, they’ve been away for 159km and counting, which is pretty damned impressive. It’s sad, as ever, to see the long shot of these guys, with the inevitable catch looming behind them. Ten seconds out, if that. It’s about now that breakaway riders will sigh, and reach out to shake hands with each other. Soon enough, it’s down to two. And then, inevitably….

Ahh. Here’s the catch. 178km all told, right from the gun. That’s fucking insane.

But now we’re all back together again, and the organizing is starting for the sprint finish. BMC and Tinkoff are spearheading the peloton, as we have a mass finish for the first time. Peter Sagan is up near the front, though you know ALL the sprinters are being carefully shepherded. Inside of 10km left. Sky is at the front— they want Froome safe over the line in the first group to assure him the Mailllot Jaune. American rider Tejay Vangarderen is also being closely guarded— he’s now in second on the GC.

Ugh— looks like an Etixx rider had a flat— he’s all the way back in the caravan, trying to regain the peloton.

Wow. 189 cyclists all together for the finish. It’s weird to think we haven’t had this at all before today, but it’s true. All the teams are there, everyone is determined. Through the 5km gateway. Giant is hoping to get John Degenkolb close. The Etixx rider with the mech failure has made it to the peloton, but at this rate, he’ll— no way. He’s actually trying to get all the way up the peloton to the front so he can do his part for Mark Cavendish at the end. He can’t possibly make it, but just the fact that he’s trying!

The peloton has stretched out a little to give the sprinters a clear stage on which to perform. Speeds up to 50/60kmph now— and they’re speeding up! 1.8km to the finish, and one of the Giant riders has gone the wrong way past a roundabout and screwed up their leadout. Lotto is up there— now it’s a long stretch of riders, but Lotto has Greipel right at the front!

Sprint, sprint boys! Degenkolb is there, Cav has lost his readout again— go boys! Greipel, Sagan— and HOLY HELL, FINALLY! Mark Cavendish has taken the sprint!

Cav, Greipel, Sagan, then Degenkolb. But oh, boy, Cav has his 26th sprint win! I can only imagine how happy that must have made his poor, battered teammate, Tony Martin, back in Germany. What a Tour it’s been for this team! And this is Cav’s first win since 2013— last year, the Tour had barely begun before he was taken out by a horrible crash.

There’s an interview with him backstage, and…man, it’s astonishing to think this was the angry young brat who used to throw tantrums and piss everyone off. Now, here he is, holding his GORGEOUS daughter Delilah, who has to be about two, now, talking about how he got the win today by being patient and not starting his sprint too early. Another interview with teammate Mark Renshaw, also speaking about Cav’s patience, and openly expressing his relief about finally getting the sprint for Cav. It must be a much-needed bit of happy for Etixx.

Peter Sagan has moved up to second, now, which shoves Tejay Van Garderen down to third, but it’s still so close. Contador, by the way, is in seventh. And Chris Froome has his lion, and a jersey that, while coveted, isn’t really a good colour for anyone.

And there’ s another interview with Peter Sagan, and I am a bad human cos I’m just giggling at his very nasal, slightly high-pitched voice. But he has the best attitude about his chance for taking the yellow jersey soon: “If come, come. If not, it’s okay.” It’s still early, in other words. There’s time for all kinds of crazy. And there surely will be.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Five, Arras to Amiens. 189.5 kilometers (117.5 miles)

Apparently, today is the day of crashes. Not hideous crashes, but big ones, and enough of them to just wreck the nerves of the peloton. It’s mostly the weather, really, I’m thinking. Lots of rain, and wind, to boot. Ugh.

We’ve lost nine men all told, now, and what’s left is aggressive and edgy. I’ve missed most of the stage today, and for the most part, I’m thinking it’s been a lot of the same as what I’m seeing now: grim guys putting in a long day’s slog.

We’re in Amiens now, and Tony Martin, safely in yellow, is doing his OTHER job: playing lead-out man to the best sprinter in the world, Mark Cavendish. This is a sprint finish today, and barring another crash, should be a classic.

One team after another pushes forward, gets overtake, pushes up again. Extixx is betting everything on Mark. 500 meters— do they have enough to keep the front? Mark Renshaw’s lost Cav off his back wheel— Cav is lost! GO CAV! NO! Out of absolutely nowhere, with no lead-out men, it’s Andre Greipel! Peter Sagan, likewise, comes out of nowhere, but it’s not his day. Ten yards more, maybe, and he could have had it. But it’s Greipel’s turn to grin, pump the air in victory, then whack his teammates on their helmets in post-win celebration backstage. Holy cow, that was a gorgeous sprint. I could do with another couple dozen of those.

Maaaaaaan…talk about suck: it’s nearly 15 minutes after the sprint, which lead off nearly half the peloton, and here comes the second group, which comprises nearly half the riders. What on earth did I miss today? Okay, aside from rain, and heavy crosswinds, and falls, and…yeah, never mind.

So: another day of ow on the roads of France, with many more yet to come. Yay!
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Four: Seraing, Belgium to Cambrai, France 223.5km, 139 miles

Longest stage of the Tour today. Four guys off the front again. I don’t get it— is this some new rule this year? I know they pick the guy who gets the honour of leading out the peloton— yesterday, it was the Tour’s first black African rider and youngest rider, 21-year-old Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin (MTN-Qhubeka) from Eritrea— but is the key now they pick four guys to go off and try to kill themselves first?

Today is going to be a pretty sadistic day. After the meat grinder of yesterday, today we have cobblestones. Ugh. Cobblestones.

My neighbours just heard me howling. Across the bottom of my screen: “Stage 4 DNS: Fabian Cancellara.” I actually think they heard me in Jersey. No, not New Jersey, Jersey, U.K. I’m that gutted. I am not in the least surprised, given the look on his face yesterday after I watched his bike and his body fly, cartwheeling through the air yesterday. I mean, bright yellow, the both of them. Hard to miss. But G-d. I am gutted.

Sigh. Anyway.

The gap is coming down from four minutes to less than one as the first of seven sections of cobblestones approach. And there they are: tiny stones, on a road no more than ten feet wide, through beautiful green fields lined with cheering spectators. And…uh…agricultural workers have formed a bike made of tractors in one field. Including wheels that spin. No, I’m not joking. You can’t make this stuff up.

On we go, up to the sprint point. Most of the points have been taken by the four lead riders, but there’s a bit of a gap to a secondary group of seven or so sprinters. Andre Greipel, John Degenkolb, Mark Cavendish. Today, Cav’s feeling a bit feisty, I suppose. It’s not a fast sprint, but he whips out from a slipstream, and takes the remaining points for himself.

They fade back into the group, and now they’re all together chasing the four. Gap is down to 20 seconds as they hit another patch of cobbles. The road here is even narrower, and dusty as hell. Nevertheless, the pace has increased. Twelve seconds now, and they’re back on paved highway. One of the frontrunners has dropped. One of the three remaining riders is an Astana rider, and he’s trying to control the pace for his GC man: last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali. Those few seconds back, a group of about 40 riders is being spearheaded by the rest of Astana. The front three are starting to look over their shoulders at the looming mass on their rear: the peloton has split, and this front group is about to swallow them up.

14km to go in the stage, and more damned cobblestones. 1.6km of them. They are rough and ugly, but Lars Boom of Astana is leading them out with grim determination. Astana is still pulling for Nibali, but Chris Froome of Sky is having none of it. He’s gone out by himself to reel these Astana riders in. On cobbles! And it’s worked: they’re all together again, in one line. Off the cobbles, thank G-d, but the group is still strung out. Tony Martin is near the front, and he is avid for this stage. By G-d, the Maillot Jaune has been juuuuuuust out of reach— by fractions!— for four days, now.

Back on cobbles. Back on badly-paved roads. There’s a bit of a break— team staff on the side of the road holding up power drinks and packs, which the guys grab as they go. (It looks almost like they’re giving spectators high-fives for a minute, which is very disconcerting.) We have three more sections of cobbles to go. You really start wondering about the proclivities of the Tour organizers at times like this.

Back on the treacherous bastard cobbles again, and Froome is really looking out to prove himself. There’s jockeying for position again, lots of planning and pushing and swirling around. I wouldn’t want to tackle these damned lanes in a Land Rover, and these guys are all, “Yeah, whatever, get out of my way.” Nairo Quintana is also making sure no one forgets he’s in the running for top of the GC, too. The dust is ridiculous. I’ve lost track of who’s where— half the race is on the cobbles, half has already left them. I’m hearing that “these aren’t the really rough cobbles of Paris-Roubaix,” (a different race) but man, this is more than sadistic enough.

Ooo— Thibauld Pinot of FdJ has flatted. On the incredibly narrow roads, there’s no way his team car can get to him fast enough to keep him with the leading group. He’s lost his temper at the mechanic who finally arrives to change out his tire. I can’t blame him, but until race officials allow drones, I”m really not sure what could have happened. Ooo. Drones. Okay, no, never mind.

Back into town, and Tony Martin is in the gutter with a flat, changing bikes with one of his teammates, Matteo Trentin. (Trentin stays behind and is fixed by the neutral Mavic mechanics, who are the only ones who can get to him in time.) His teammates have come back to help him, and he’s back in the lead group. Pinot, however, is by the side of the street yet again with another teammate, screaming in frustration once more. It’s either that just-replaced tire, or the whole damned bike at this point. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near him right now. Several thousand miles and four or five hours is just fine, thanks. Soon enough, he’s back in the peloton, but man, he’s pissed, and that’s not an advantage. He was one of those favoured to podium this year, and this may well put him completely out of the running.

One more section of cobbles. Tony Martin is up towards the front, surrounded by teammates, though it’s hard to see anyone for dust. The riders are trying to keep to the center of the ten-foot-wide road, where the cobbles seem to be smoother. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just means that’s where the weeds are growing. The front group of the field is where all the GC men are— Pinot is not amongst them: he’s now a disastrous two minutes down. Vincenzo Nibali is shoving to the front, pushing the pace. Seven or eight riders have made a bit of a gap as they come off the cobbles back onto the paved roads of another town. Nibali is part of what’s now an eight-man group. Froome is with him, Tony Martin is there. Peter Sagan. There’s too much time and distance left for Froome to be serious about winning today’s stage from this moment. Geraint Thomas is there. Will they work together to keep up this gap? No. They can’t maintain it. The front group of thirty-five or so riders is back together. Whoever wins today— they’re in that group right there. Poor Pinot— he’s not amongst them. Alberto Contador is. Tony Martin only has to be in the top three to take yellow. There is a LOT of ambition here, and a lot on the line.

Chris Froome is scarfing something that I imagine may well taste vile to get as much energy as possible for the end. His arms are covered in dust. Everyone is. Every rider has two distinctive patches of brown French dust around their armpits, and they’re going to look like negative raccoons when they take off their sunglasses.

OMG, Tony Martin has broken away! He’s got a gap of a few seconds, and he’s pushing harder and harder to enlarge it! 3km to go, and one of the sport’s best time trailers has obviously had MORE than enough of this down-by 6-10ths-of-a-second stuff. 2km to go, and he wants to get close enough to get the time bonus of finishing early. Oh, Christ, I am SO pushing for him! There’s the 1km banner! Screw the time bonuse, he’s going for the stage win! If anyone catches him, I will SCREAM. GO GO GO!

Sharp left-hander, he’s still alone. Will he? GO MAN!! His teammates are trying to slow the field behind him— 400 meters! GO MAN GO!

YES! FUCK YES! My dog has her nose in my ear, the cats have fled, and I am ABSOLUTELY sure they heard me in France. Tony Martin has crossed the line all by himself, and gotten himself not just the stage win, but a ten-second bonus, and his first-ever Maillot Jaune!

Man, I am cheering so loudly. He’s in a heap backstage at the finish line, his Etixx - Quick Step teammates are beating him up in that way manly men do, and then there’s a huge group hug that just makes me so happy. This was a crazy four days for him, and even with a flat in the final miles of this stage— remember, he changed bikes with a teammate! He wasn’t even on his own bike!*— he has his win. Man, you so deserved this.

He looks like he’s so happy, later, up on the podium, he might just cry. I’m thrilled as hell for him. Well done, mate. Well done.

*Trentin, in a post-race interview, laughs that Martin’d better not want to keep the bike, because riding Martin’s bike was incredibly uncomfortable.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Three (99 miles, 159.5km) Anvers to Huy

Third verse, same as the second.

Here we are on the road again, and once more, we have four men off the front. This has made the rest of the pack a bit edgy, and I have to tell you, there are certain things you don’t want to be around when they’re nervous: horses, teenagers, and the Tour de France peloton in the first week. Riders are full of energy, jockeying for position, and edgy as hell. And when there’s someone out front on a clear, dry day, the need to catch them is primal. That leads to speed, and that, combined with the aforementioned nerves, leads to—

And oh, man! there’s a HORRIBLE crash 36 miles from the finish— no TWO! The first one is just skidding piles of bodies and bikes— bikes literally flying through the air!— and when it starts to unravel, right there in the middle is the Maillor Jaune— Fabian Cancellara is waving his hand in front of his face and—-

I have never, ever seen this before. They are stopping the race. Christian Prudhomme is up out of the official’s car, everyone is sitting up and coasting. The race is neutralised. They keep moving, but there is no racing.

It’s only a few minutes, and they release the race again. Team Sky goes to the front, but everyone else is going to have to reorganise.

No— they’re stopping again! Oh, my G-d, this is insane.

Tom Dumoulain, Best New Rider, has abandoned. One other rider was by the side of the road, flat on his back, covered in blood. There’s no tally as yet of who else has abandoned. The entire peloton has come to a complete stop in narrow Belgian town streets. The officials’ cars are there, with the peloton in a crowd around them, standing up, drinking from their water bottles, looking grim. Simon Gerrans has abandoned. Fabian Cancellara is on his way back in. I have no idea what has happened.

They are announcing they’re starting again, but will end the race at the beginning of the climb up Huy. And no, they’ve stopped again. Cancellara has caught up, but he’s talking to his team managers.

Another complete stop, hoping to allow any riders left behind to catch up. The current tally is three riders sent to hospital. This is horrible. Just horrible. The race will continue to the original finish line in Huy, but is still neutralized for now.

The race has begin to move again, cautiously, but there are entirely too many shredded jerseys and pale, bloodied bodies. The King of the Mountain competition has been eliminated for the day— no, up to this point in the day. Laurens Ten Dam is reported to have dislocated his shoulder, had it put back in (while writhing in pain), and rejoined the race. An FdJ rider— the one laid on by the side of the road— has gone off on a gurney. Simon Gerrans is likely to have a broken arm or wrist. Tom Dumoulain is also thought to have a dislocated shoulder— he’s in the team car, and will see a doctor at the finish line. Fabian Cancellara, who had severe back problems this year, has been spotted holding his back and grimacing. Reports of the second crash are sketchy, because no cameras were present. The medical team was also taken with the first crash and unavailable for the second, which is another very good reason to truncate the race. No medics, no mechanics. Neutralizing it was the right thing to do.

The official’s car has moved out of the way at the top of the climb up the Cote du Huys, and the race has been restarted after 18 minutes of neutralization, 50 miles from the end. The road is narrow, the riders are bloodied.

William Bonnet— that bloodied FdJ rider— is shown to have been the rider who touched wheels back at the first crash. At 30-35mph, it is a disastrous domino effect, even worse because of the damned lamppost into which the entire mass of cartwheeling bodies flew. He is, of course, out of the race. A Katusha rider, Dmitry Kozontchuk, has abandoned. Simon Gerrans is reported now to have a fractured wrist. This is dreadful.

The race has begun again now on the comparative flats, and the peloton is in tatters, splayed in chunks down the road. The sun is out, and the fields are golden and bright, and the remaining riders are dirty, bloody, and determined. Through another town, and we’re suddenly at a sprint point! And again, it’s Andre Greipel! He’s definitely gunning for the Green Jersey this year. 75 points so far.

Update on William Bonnet: “Head trauma without loss of consciousness, cervical trauma without neurological effects.” I hope he’ll be okay. What a terrible way to finish your season. Well…possibly finish your season. These guys are so tough it’s literally unbelievable. Maybe he’ll try for the Vuelta. Who knows?

20km to the end, and the teams have reorganised. Pushing at 60kmph. Fabian Cancellara is obviously in terrible pain, but hanging on to the back of the peloton. They have yet to get to the final climb— the Mer du Huy, which is a 25% gradient, and I am just dreading what it’s going to look like. I’m glad the riders who are able to continue are still going: not just because I despise seeing someone forced to abandon, but because keeping their bodies moving now may lessen the stiffness and pain they will, overwhelmingly, feel tomorrow.

The sprinters have fallen off the back as we start the climbs leading up to the final climb. I am reminded that tomorrow’s stage covers the route used in another race: Flèche Wallonne, a Classic which is charmingly called The Hell of the North. Why? Cobblesones. Fucking cobblestones. These battered and bloodied men will, tomorrow, race over cobblestones. I’m nauseated just thinking about it.

Sky is pushing the pace now, up at the front, protecting and shepherding Chris Froome. There’s a shot of Dennis Rohan, the first day’s winner, looking comparatively cheerful. But there are plenty of sharp curves, turns, and bends to keep the guys busy. Richie Porte of Sky is not screwing around. Tinkoff is coming to the front for Contador. Quickstep is surrounding Michal Kwiatkowski, World Champion and their GC man. Today, though, they could be looking to put Tony Martin— second place— in Yellow! (If Mark Cavendish hadn’t bloody well sat up a quarter length from the end yesterday and had beaten Cancellara to third, he’d already have it. Martin was utterly crushed, and I can’t blame him.)

1km to the start of the penultimate climb. Cancellara is now 4 minutes back, and will be out of Yellow no mater what. They’re over the top of the climb, on the descent now. A fast descent through towns— not pleasing to watch today. All the big names are in the front, though, and they’re being, well, comparatively careful. Tinkoff-Saxo looks like today’s the day they want to make their move for Contador. Well— hell, one rider has gone straight into the trees at the bottom of a curve. Not a hard crash— looks like he may not have even fallen over. Back to the road, back to the race.

3km to the end. Alejandro Valverde is in the front. Geraint Thomas (after whom I named a character: your trivia for the day) is there, too. Chris Froom. Nairo Quintana. They’re all bracing for the climb, lining up to start. Under the 1km banner! Katusha is at the front, but Contador is pushing, with Peter Sagan behind him! Froome is there with Contador tucked in behind him, and the steepest part of the climb about to come.

The road narrows, the riders are bobbing and pushing— Froome is at the front, grinding away! It’s 450m to the end! Has he gone too early? Yes! Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha is in front with Tony Gallopin behind him and Froome behind him! Froome moves to second— can he pass the former winner of Flèche Wallonne? No! Rodriguez wins! Froome right behind him! Tejay Van Garderen is in third!

The rest of the field is staggering in slowly. They’re anywhere up to ten minutes or more down, but by G-d, they’re going to finish. Fabian Cancellara is there, which, considering the pain written across his entire body, is a miracle. But probably the most heartbreaking story of this particular finish is again Tony Martin— he is ONE SECOND out of yellow today. ONE. He’d better get that damned jersey at one point in this race or I will strangle my beloved Mark Cavendish myself.

11.42 behind in the end for Cancellara. Oh, G-d. Can he come back from that? I seriously doubt it, but then again, he IS a good climber. And, of course, it’ll depend on how the next few days affect his body. He’s not in his 20s any more.

So that’s one for the books, now. I’ve seen bigger crashes, but I’ve never seen crashes screw up a race more. I fully understand the reason they stopped the race for eighteen minutes: one massive crash takes all the medical staff and ambulances out of commission. With another crash right on top of it, there was absolutely no one there to help the second set of injured riders. While some folks are going to debate the decision over and over, I think those eighteen minutes were the very, very least they could have done. Astana rider Jacob Fuglsang, interviewed post-stage, even posits the entire stage could have been neutralized, and it wouldn’t have been the worst thing. I agree.

Chris Froome is getting his moment in the sun, presented with the Maillot Jaune, while the last riders are still staggering in. The next few days, as muscles lock up and injuries get louder, will strip the field down further, especially after going through the tumbler of The Hell of the North tomorrow. Sadly, I’m sure I’ll be reading about abandonments through the afternoon. Such is the Tour.

Also: Geraint Thomas calls his team captain “Froomie.” And now you know.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage Two 166km (103 miles), Utrecht to Zeland

Flat. Flat, flat, flat. Flatter than me in 5th grade. At some points, even BELOW sea level by 3 or 4 metres. Like, there’s a bridge in the middle, and that’s the only elevation. No, really.

So what does a flat stage mean? Yup. A sprint finish. It’s a cool day in the Netherlands— no, we’re not in France yet— but a windy one. We’ve got the peloton chugging along happily, with 4 riders in a breakaway. Yesterday’s Stage One was a fairly simple time trial, which I love. Rohan Dennis of BMC, a very young rider, won, giving him his first-ever Maillot Jaune. And seriously, if you’re going to win your first one, how better? Will he hold it through the day? Probably not. But he’s certainly happy to have it now.

So what happens when you’re on flat-flat-flat land, and you’re approaching the coast? Hey! Wind! The peloton begins to stretch, and take no the distinctive shape of a group of riders battling a strong crosswind. It’s 60 miles to the finish, but it’s time, the riders have decided, to get to work. We still have four riders off the front, but now the peloton has divided, and those caught out and left behind may be trashing their chances already. Second day, and some riders could already be sunk!

Alberto Contador, now in the bright yellow of Saxo-Tinkoff, is absolutely sure he’ll be up near the front. Sky is there with him. I see Lampre and Astana in the third group— will they catch up? Mmm. Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I think we’ll see the peloton back together again, but I’ve been wrong before. Many, many times.

There’s a sprint in Rotterdam— which sounds like a Cary Grant movie— and it looks like the four frontrunners will be caught before we reach it. Back in the first bulk of the peloton, Mark Cavendish is starting to position himself. Surprisingly, no, the first four have gone through the sprint alone— barely ahead— but the race for 5th place is pretty heated. These four will probably not be in the overall points competition, so it’s all about consistency. Which means Mark Cavendish. There aren’t many points left for fifth, so he may save it for the bigger-total final sprint. Peter Sagan may not be taking the long view, though. Guess we’ll see.

Okay, well. Czech rider Jan Barta of German team Bora - Argon18. All by himself. Didn’t see that coming, either.

62km/40m to go, and I was right— peloton is one mass yet again. But off the back, but that’s normal. Oh, joy: it’s raining, now, too. This always makes me worry: a newly-wet road is an especially slippy road. Thankfully, it’s a fairly wide road, too, and flat. But that wind— ugh.

And fuck. Adam Hansen from Lotto has crashed. Painfully, it looks. But a change of bike as he tries to flex out his wet, mud-smeared leg, and he’s back on the road. Apparently, a few riders have had falls. But there are still 198 riders on the road, so nothing’s too bad yet.

Thankfully, the sun’s come out at the finish line, but the wind is still formidable. Out on the course, it’s changed direction: it’s coming from behind them. If that maintains, it’s going to make for a very fast, but a very dangerous sprint finish.

Okay. So. Closing in, and the peloton has done some damage here. There’s a huge split, and the riders stream past huge, modern windmills that perfectly illustrate why. Some big riders have made the front group, including sprinters and their lead-out guys. They’re determined not to let the rest of the field catch them, so they’re working together to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a nearly 40-second deficit now, which is formidable. (Aw— I’ve just heard Phil Liggett say “These are desperate moments in the Tour de France” for the first time. I feel completed.)

Closer and closer, and the two chase groups the wind made out of the peloton have become one again. They’re still chasing a group of 26 riders over a minute ahead, and only have 21 miles left to catch them.

Van Garderen, Froome, Contador, Cancellara, Cavendish— they’re all in the front group, with a lot more. Nibali is in the chase, and I can only imagine his frustration at getting caught out.

AUGH! Nibali has a flat tire! Christ almighty, could that happen at a worse time? He’s wearing the number 1 of last year’s Tour winner, and he’s absolutely in the worst position ever. He’s climbing back through the caravan of cars, drafting when he can (within legal limits) just to try and get back into it. No one will fault him for it— it’s massively unfortunate to have a flat, and he’s not using his own team car to do it. Can he get to the peloton? Finally, finally, he’s back in the peloton. Can he get back to the front? Back into the game? Well. That’s an entirely different story.

10 miles to go. The gap is a full minute. Daniele Benatti of Tinkoff Saxo has a flat, but he’s back on the road again in a snap. Peter Sagan has dropped back to see if he can help him catch up, as I’m sure he’d like another lead-out man for the final sprint.

And Peter Sagan has flatted! What the hell? New bike, and he’s pulled himself back to the lead group all by himself. G-d almighty.

AUGH! A crash! Losada of Katusha is down, a Movistar rider, a Lampre rider? There are roundabouts, and they’re wet— this is not surprising. Not at all. Six of them yet to go.

24 frontrunners now, with 10km to go. The rain has stopped, but there’s a sheen of water, still— over paint, it’s murderous.

The peloton is driving as hard as it can, but the break isn’t coming down at all. It’s gone up— 1.24. The only option they have is to keep pushing, keep pushing, to try and lessen the damage. It’s far too early to give up.

Closer and closer— the road narrows with spectators. Fabian Cancellara is bereft of teammates in the front group, but he knows if he gets close enough to the front, if he can cross third or better, the time bonus it’ll win him will put him in yellow.

1.22 now, and you can almost hear Nibali screaming. There’s no way the peloton can catch up. The sun is out, the wind has died, the 24 riders are closing in on the end.

They’re starting for the end! And it’s Andre Greipel of Lotto! Out of nowhere— i didn’t even know he was in there! The hell? Where was Cav? Augh— fourth! And Cancellara— yes, he’s made that third spot by half a wheel over Cavendish.

Wow. So that was a pretty unexpected stage. The peloton is coming in five minutes behind, and I’m surprised as hell— one doesn’t usually see splits this big this early.

Well, tomorrow is certainly going to be brutal. There are cobblestones, and a fairly hellish climb. It’s going to be fun. We shall see.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Longest stage of the Tour. Oh, that sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Breakaway of twenty-one riders, and they're over nine minutes away, which, Phil Liggett tells me, is the biggest time gap this year. Well, when you've got twenty people to share the work with you, I guess it's not surprising. Cheerfully, we're passing the spot on the Col de Portet d'Aspet where a mostly run-of-the-mill crash killed 1992 Olympic gold medal winner Fabio Casartelli in 1995. There's a monument here to his memory with a sundial that illuminates the day and time he died. I wish it did that for the day he was born, but it's beautiful, either way.

The descent is not particularly fast, nor scary, and this time, everyone comes through safely. The landscape is gorgeous, and the weather is to match. And Ask Bobke has just answered a burning question I know I certainly had. I know how riders pee when they have to during the stage. But: "For the full monty," they can pull over and ask to borrow a spectator's camper bathroom. *laughing* And now we know. (The illustrative rider apparently had had bad gastrointestinal problems on the day in question. But it IS a brilliant solution.)

The roads are slightly narrow, perhaps, but the breakaway and peloton are untroubled. Astana is pushing the pace of the peloton for Nibali, as ever, but no one in the breakaway is a serious threat to him. It's 39km to the end, and they don't need to worry just yet. They'll have to worry when the peloton gets to the descent on the last mountain of the day.

The breakaway, however, is making more of a commotion. They've started the climb, and, as climbs do, the group's starting to fracture. Europecar's Kévin Reza, being the only black man in the race, is hard to miss in the front, supporting teammate Thomas Voeckler. But the Porte de Bales, this mountain, really doesn't give a damn for your puny plans, humans. From twenty one, we're down to twelve, now. And now six, with a few desperate riders falling clinglingly off the back. One even manages to come back. Voeckler tries an attack, but he's caught in mere seconds. He's not giving up, though-- he is absolutely determined to try to win this stage. It'd be the third time winning in this particular town, and no one's done that since, I'm told, 1961. One way or the other, he'll never pay for a drink in France again.

4k to the top of the climb. Cyril Gautier, of Europcar, is trying to make a name for himself. Saxobank's Australian rider Michael Rogers, Lampre's José Serpa, and Voeckler aren't yet fazed. They know they can catch him without killing themselves, and soon enough, the four are together again.

Back behind them, Movistar is trying to move Alejandro Valverde into contention for the GC, keeping him near Nibali. Behind them, well, it's going to be another day when the last riders come in after all the prizes have been given and the press has packed their lenses.

Gautier has destroyed himself, and though he's trying desperately to hang on, he watches the other three of his group slip away. Voeckler doesn't exactly need him: with the three remaining riders working together, he's going to have someone to draft him. And once they get to the summit, he's an amazing descender, and he'll need no help there.

Sad news: American BMC rider Tejay Van Garderen, fifth in the GC, seems to have cracked. Come on, guy: get it together-- we're rooting for you! He's not the only one-- the road is littered with guys who look like the road under their bikes is made of cookie dough.

Lots of wind as they come up to the summit. I suppose the screaming crowds are a bit of a windbreak, but it's a trade-off: they're very close, and very loud. The summit comes closer and closer-- can Voeckler take the points and start the descent first? Serpa is all of a sudden not screwing around, and unexpectedly pips them both. As they get ready for the descent, Voeckler grabs a bottle from his soigneur-- and nearly topples as a result-- as the men grab newspapers (to put over their sweaty chests so the wind of the lightning descent doesn't get them sick), zip up their jerseys, and get down to it. So to speak.

Watching the top riders descend is exhilarating, beautiful, and wholly terrifying. They're topping out at about 60mph, tucked down over their handlebars, nearly in free fall, and still pedaling to go yet faster. It's mesmerising to watch, until you think about what happens should they fall.

Oh, FFS. Is it Rogers, trying to get away? There's a fucking press car in front of him where it emphatically SHOULD NOT BE. There should be NO cars in these gaps between riders on a descent, but this looks like the little silver hatchback is panicking as it's being chased by a guy on a bike. No, it's not Rogers. Was it Nibali??

Jesus. Our front three are now five, and they are not screwing around. Well, no one is. Everyone is going SO fast now, on these narrow, sinuous roads cut into the side of the mountains. In small groups and singles, they whip through the course, 45mph in the corners, 60mph in the straights. Gaultier is back, and now he has taken off. Rogers follows, and then shoots past him. Vassil Kiriyenka of Sky is behind with the Voeckler, Serpa, and Voeckler. Rogers has the bit in his teeth, and he's racing for the stage win. He's in town now, and the flame rouge is over him! Does he have time? They're gaining on him! Can they catch him? One turn, another, 400 meters-- no. He knows he has it. And yes! He sits up, pumps his fists, then does a courtly bow over his handlebars.

Oh, but it ain't over yet. The race for the maillot jaune is still hot, as is the battle for Best Young Rider. Here comes the yellow jersey group-- safely-- and Alejandro Valverde is in it. He certainly has his eyes on the prize. Minutes later, BMC arrives, shepherding Tejay to save some precious seconds. He's slipped, but only to sixth, so it could have been much worse. Nibali collects his stuffed lion yet again, but he can't be sure he's going to collect one tomorrow. Or the next day: we have two more difficult mountain stages in a row, now.

A hot day. A good day. We'll see who's where tomorrow.
ysobelle: (Kayli)

So we have a leading group of eleven riders, now, halfway through the stage, and this bit of bravery has won them what, now? That's right. First up the side of a Hors Categorie climb. But the riders in this breakaway are attacking each other, trying to get up the mountain even sooner than the others. We're 10km to the end, and Allessandro De Marchi takes a stab at it, and is followed by another ambitious rider, Tinkoff Saxo's Rafal Majka, who reaches out and taps him. Not to tell him to get out of the way, but to invite him to take his back wheel and work together. Fort a few minutes. Before Majka takes off.

A little further back, we see Jakob Fugelsang struggling to keep up. This poor guy not only crashed yesterday, but slid. Hard. For many meters. I'm amazed he's even on the bike today, much less still in it.

5.8km to go. Majka is still in the front, all by himself, and it's looking like he's a maybe for the stage win. He's over an hour down in the standings, so no one in the GC is really caring. He's a young rider-- not even 25 yet-- but a good one. Can he keep this up to the top of the mountain?

More attacks from the Yellow Jersey group. One after the other-- and now it's Nibali! He's not content with his existing lead, he wants more! He takes off with only one rider trying to keep up. Alejandro Valverde tries, Tejay Van Garderen follow him, both of them aiming to move up a little. They are STILL climbing, but they don't care.

Majka is holding on for dear life. His lead is down to 52 seconds. Nibali is having none of it. There's an AG2R rider, Jean-Christophe Péraud, with him, hanging on with all he's got. The group behind them is beating the snot out of each other, attack after attack. Has Valverde cracked? How the hell did THAT happen?

One kilometer to go! Can Nibali grab the stage win from Majka? No. Nope. The Polish rider, in his first Tour, looks certain. But the action is behind him: Van Garderen is back there, and Frank Schleck, from whom we've heard almost nothing this race. All attacking each other.

Rafal Majka comes around the corner, looking behind him over and over again-- he doesn't even stop to zip up his jersey! But it doesn't matter: he's over the line alone. 24 years old, and he's got a Tour Stage win. Behind him, Nibali is pushing hard. The stage may be won, but he's going to fight for every second of increased lead. For a split second, it almost looks like Péraud might grab second, but nope. Nibali is having none of that. He takes second, and keep the Maillot Jaune easily. Joaquim Rodriguez grabs the King of the Mountains, now, and is actually tied with Rafal Majka.

Another day wherein the Alps are joyfully whacking the hell out of the race, and, of course, we have yet more of it tomorrow. Quite enjoyable!

If you're an assassin.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
I've been away for a few days. I missed an entire mountain range. And crazy things happen in mountains. But I come back, and I find Vincenzo Nibali is STILL in yellow. It's a vastly different race from what anyone expected-- We've lost Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, and Alberto Contador. I saw one newspaper report saying, "Anyone who wins this year will always have a shadow over their victory." I think that's a horrible thing to say, and I think it's bullshit.

One thing anyone who watches cycling regularly knows is that riders ALWAYS crash. And riders retire. And riders get sick. And riders have bad days. Say what you want about cheating, but every year, it gets harder and harder to even THINK about doping, and there is no way to guarantee anything. ANYTHING.

Team Sky thought they were pretty well set by having Froome out there. They were so confident, in fact, that they elected to leave champion Sir Bradley Wiggins off their squad. Five days in, well, they found out how hubristic that was. And now, Richie Porte, their last hope-- and a damned good but very young rider-- got dropped halfway up an Alp today. He went into today's stage in second place, and the last eleven kilometers-- a big climb-- sent him toppling down the standings. He lost eight minutes to Nibali, and he's essentially out of the race.

What's my point? Vincenzo Nibali is the champion of Italy, and he's been in yellow more days than he's been out. Anyone saying he's only there because Contador and Froome are gone needs a Super Big Gulp of STFU. He's been amazing on the flats, he's been amazing (so far) on the climbs. He has no time to rest, of course, and he's got more climbs ahead. but screw it: he knows what he's doing, he's being a consummate professional, he's got the tactical side down cold, and he's leading the race because he's a top-notch rider. Still not convinced? Today, he won the polka-dot jersey of King of the Mountain. So there: take THAT.

We're in the Alps now, and as I think Phil Liggett said once, you can take the playbook and throw it out the team car window now. (Or if he didn't say it, let's pretend he did.) Everything changes in the mountains, and it's where the race gets more brutal, and more finessed. We also have BMC's Tejay Van Garderen up from sixth to fifth position, which is pretty great if you're rooting for the Americans. Could he podium in Paris? he's a good time trialler, and there's a long one coming up. So let's see.

Well, everyone's hopefully sleeping in their hotel beds tonight, recovering for tomorrow. More mountains: a Cat One climb at the beginning, and a Hors Categorie at the end. OWWWWW.

PS: I FINALLY SAW DIDI! I haven't seen him at all the last couple of years, but there he was today!
ysobelle: (Kayli)
No, there is too much. Lemme sum up:

Don't be stupid and assume your team's one shining hope is going to STAY your one shining hope. I am absolutely not saying I know better than these whip-smart tour managers. But nothing is ever, ever sure in cycling, and while yes, your team needs speed and strength, it also needs depth. Case in point: heavily favoured Team Sky captain Chris Froome abandoned yesterday after not one, but TWO crashes.

They have Richie Porte, and they have a great team, but what they DON'T have is former Tour winner Bradley Wiggins. They left him off the team this year. Don't get me wrong: the year Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong were both on Astana was a WRECK. There was no clear leader, and the team's loyalties were divided. But had anything happened to one of them, they would have had another champion. (Okay, Lance turned out to be well past his prime, and didn't do well, and...there were probably other reasons we needn't go into for his less-than-stellar performance that year.) Bob Roll is referring to a team's hubris, and I can't blame him. There are plenty of teams who don't have the option. In fact, it's rare for a team to have two potential winners. But when you do, USE THEM. You can't win with the guy you don't bring.

Anyway. We have four guys in the breakaway today. I see Cofidis, Belkin, Bretagne, and one other I can't quite read. It's a cold, wet, windy day, and the peloton has been shattered not by hills this time, but by crashes. Boom, boom, boom: it's three or four guys at a time, and they're going down HARD. At least twice so far, they're not getting back up-- it's the team car and/or hospital for them. Xabier Zandio of Sky is one of the losses, with a possible broken rib and severe back injury, which will affect the whole team come the mountains. And yesterday sucked as well: cobblestones everywhere. In fact, yesterday, the Tour went over the course used for a springtime race often referred to as "The Hell of the North." This was always going to be a brutal Tour, but man. Ouch.

Sixteen miles to the end, and the lead is down to 45 seconds. 107 km they've been up there, but the end is quite literally in sight. Any time it's under a minute, the race officials begin pulling team cars out of the gap. It's heartening for the peloton, but it has to be absolutely galling for the breakaway. It's that silent, "Yeah, nice try, but you're done, and everyone knows it. Next!"

177km now, and there are only two in front now. There was an attack, and two of the leaders were dropped, but now it's only seconds back, so it's all a sort of final show of defiance. Luis Mate of Cofidis drops Pineau of IAM, and leads on for a few minutes. 187km in the lead now, and he's got 13 seconds on the race. He won't give up, and he's going to be today's Most Aggressive Rider. He keeps looking over his shoulder to see where the peloton is, and to make sure they'll swallow him up safely when the catch comes.

5km to go and the heat's been turned up. There's been a massive attack by a large group, and in that group are all the sprinters and top contenders. Omega Pharma QuickStep is getting Mark Renshaw in position. Giant Shimano is NOT there for Marcel Kittel-- where are they? Peter Sagan is trying to find his place. Whipping through the streets, 2km to go. Screaming crowds and broad avenues, and they're under the 1km banner. Giant Shimano is gone-- one man in front, another, there's no lead out for ANYONE, what the hell is going on and-- it's ANDRE GREIPEL out of NOWHERE! Greipel takes the stage!

Andre Greipel: Lotto Belisol rider and Champion of Germany. Renshaw and Sagan are fourth and fifth for the stage with the same time. And Marcel Kittel? Wow. Of all the times to get a flat.

Also of note today:

With the Tour giving a nod to 100 years since the start of World War I, French President Francois Hollande honored the fallen and took a ride with race director Christian Prudhomme on Thursday. The Tour chief led a ceremony honoring 1909 winner Francois Faber, one of three winners of early Tours who died in the war. (http://www.timesherald.com/sports/20140710/cycling-sensing-rivals-calm-nibali-defends-tour-lead)

So on tomorrow to the Tour's second-longest stage. Vincenzo Nibali has spent five days in yellow, but it remains to be seen if he can keep that up. He's won the Giro, he's won the Vuelta. This is all that's missing from his mantel, at this point.

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Two in the breakaway from Mile Zero today: Jan Barta (2013 Czech Road Racing Champion) of NetApp Endura, and Jean-Marc Bideau of Bretagne-Seche. All day. At on point, they were a whole four and a half minutes away from the peloton, trading the lead back and forth, earning hours of precious camera time for their corporate sponsors. (Don't snark: it keeps these guys in skin suits and PowerBars.) And then, the minute we get into the city, Barta breaks away and takes off. I mean, seriously: I thought you were friends!

Speaking of timing, it's also been fabulous weather all this time, but you know, this is England, and there's only so far that's gonna take you. Thus of course, just as we get into London, here we are with the damned rain. After days of dry, it's just enough rain to bring all the oil up on the road. And that's fun. Luckily, however, the final sprint-- and what a sprint it could be!-- is on the Mall, with the Buckingham Palace as backdrop. The Mall itself has a rubberized coating, to keep it safe for the horses on their way to and from the Horse Guards. It may be a little sticky, but it'll be safe.

Under London Bridge, under Westminster Bridge, turning away from the Thames towards the inner city, and all the teams are jockeying for position now. Bideau has long since been caught, and Barta only lasted a few seconds more in the lead. This may have been an easy stage up til now, with no major catch effort from the peloton, but no one's having any of that easy-day nonsense now. There's a broad, flat, open sprint to be won, and everyone wants in on it. Giant Shimano wants Marcel Kittel back on top. Peter Sagan's Cannondale team wants the day for him. 5km to the end and there's a crash! But the accident is well back, and none of the leaders are affected. It's not even clear they know it happened: they look back to see where their teammates are placed, but not back any further. It's all eyes and all thought to the front now.

Sweeping turn into the Mall, in front of the golden statues of Buckingham Palace. The crowd is thousands upon thousands deep, weekday or not, and the screaming and cheering is an absolute miasma of deafening sound. Estimates run as high as five million spectators on the road, and it truly seems like all of them are right here right now. Omega-Pharma's Petacchi is trying to lead out Renshaw, hoping to create with him the sprint wins Mark Cavendish could have had, but Kittel is having none of it-- this is going to be his. Sagan has the idea of using him as a lead out man, and for a minute it looks like maybe that's a wise idea, but-- no! Kittel is his own man, and takes another stage. He's well out of yellow, but today is his nonetheless.

And of course, it also belongs to Vincenzo Nibali. His hold on the lead is tenuous at best: he's a mere two seconds over Green Jersey-holder Peter Sagan. And tonight we cross the Channel, to start bright and early on the Continent tomorrow, in Le Touquet-Paris Plage. Another flat stage, but we only have so many of those. England may have been a wonderful start, but there's so much more trouble to get into in France.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
The one thing you have to remember about the Tour route planners is that they're sadists. Consummate, professional sadists. And they always have been, as I'll let Octave Lapize explain:

He is noted for looking at some Tour officials on the climb of the Col du Tourmalet in the 1910 Tour de France and yelling, "Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!' (French for 'You are murderers! Yes, murderers!')"[2] The stage in question was 326 kilometers in length, featured 7 brutal climbs, and was raced on unsealed roads with single-gear bicycles. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octave_Lapize)

This year's second stage would be, I'd imagine, analogous to being pecked to death by ducks: narrow roads, cobblestones, and not one, not three, not six, but NINE categorised climbs. That's...that's just not funny. But Tour de France riders by definition have to keep their wits about them, so I imagine they set off rather determined to see the humour in the situation. An early breakaway of seven-- Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Seche Environnement); Biel Kadri (AG2R La Mondiale); Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing); Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol); Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar); Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis); and David De La Cruz Melgarejo (Netapp-Endura).
(http://velonews.competitor.com/2014/07/news/vincenzo-nibali-wins-stage-2-takes-lead-2014-tour-de-france_334630#f7eLxFXGdHXaIkYK.99) stayed away for much of the day, but stages with lots of climbs tend to break the peloton into chunks, rather than leave breakaways unmolested. Sure enough, how we started was not how we meant to go on, and the race divided into groups soon enough.

So up, down, up, down, up, down we go, through roads getting ridiculously narrow, made yet worse by...I want to say crowds, but saying the course was crowded is a bit like saying fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza is hot, while your mouth melts off your face. Seriously, I've LIVED in England, an I didn't know there were this many people there. I have walked down Oxford Street at Christmastime in London when it was so packed we all had to walk in step like that creepy Star Trek episode, and the crowds lining the roads here make that city day look like an evening in Montana. Maybe Idaho. Possibly even Alaska. Yesterday, in Yorkshire, everyone was saying the problem was the traditional low stacked-stone walls that bordered the lanes, giving the spectators nowhere to go. No, I'm pretty sure it's because they've been importing humans from, like, Tokyo. And New York. And everywhere else on the planet.

(There are flags here literally from every country and region you can imagine. I saw a Jamaican flag in there somewhere, and there are no Jamaican riders. We have our first Chinese rider, though, so that's cool.)

We pass through the gorgeous countryside, waving at multitudes of ruined castles and abbeys, and getting a quick tourist stop into the former home of the Brontës-- everyone wave! And then, here we are in Sheffield all of a sudden. Industrial buildings and greyness, and oh, did we mention? It's five km to the end of the stage, yeah, but how about a final climb at a 30% grade? Assassins!

(Just a moment to say: you may be assassins, but I LOVE how you cheekily rename Sheffield's Jenkins Road as "Col du Jenkins." That's just adorable.)

There's a battle shaping up for the line, but it's down to the elite men now: Chris Froome is in there, and Peter Sagan, and Alberto Contador, and others. There are chunks of peloton scattered down the course, but this small lead group is going to have the winner. And sure enough, as they pass under the flammé rouge, the marker for the last kilometer, Vincenzo Nibali takes off like he just got there, and BOOM, no one can catch him. Just before the line-- after carefully checking to make absolutely sure no one was going to catch him-- he sits up and points to the champion's flag on his chest. He's riding for the national team of Kazakhstan in the Tour de France in England, but he wants to make sure you remember he's an Italian-- the Italian road racing champion, no less.

It's twenty minutes before the yellow jersey, on the back of Marcel Kittel, arrives in town, and by that time, it's already on Nibali, and the latter is giving his interviews. He's very gracious, and very pleased, but he does make a point to mention the mixed blessing of the crowds. Apparently, the big thing this year is selfies, because sure, turning your back on the peloton and standing in the road for a photo is a SMASHING idea. So to speak. Niki Terpstra, at one point earlier in the day, reaches up as the peloton thunders along and literally has to smack a telephoto out of his face. Another rider-- possibly on FdJ-- whacks at phones shoved into his face as he races: whack, whack, whack! And at least one of them goes flying. And one poor schlub is just way over the line and gets a rider's shoulder to the gut at full speed. Domino effect takes down several spectators there. Really, people: everyone appreciates your enthusiasm, but know where to draw the line: it's painted on the side of the road.

Next, we're off to the storied halls of Cambridge, where we'll aim ourselves at Buckingham Palace. The game is on!
ysobelle: (Kayli)
Ahh, early July: sun, rolling hills, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a Prince of England, hot tarmac, screaming masses, and 198 men determined to make it to Paris no matter what. Must be Tour Time.

I can't tell you how utterly delighted I am that the Tour de France is starting in England this year. I enjoyed it more than I can tell you when the Tour rolled through London in 2007, and this time, I get to see parts of England I never got to see when I was there. And I really do get to look this time, because it's the first stage, and not too much hangs in the balance quite yet. Quite. The early excitement is a three-man breakaway from the line that stays away most of the day, though eventually, the only one left is the amazing Jens Voight. He's 42 this year, and in his last Tour. He is a wonderful, outgoing, classy rider, and I'm delighted to see him take the polka-dot jersey as King of the Mountain.

One thing everyone is making much of today, however, is the fact that the stage ends in Harrogate. This is the hometown of the mother of one of the best sprinters the sport's ever known: Mark Cavendish. He spent many days there as a kid, riding the streets. He knows this route. Even more exciting, he's been reunited with his best lead-out man, Mark Renshaw, now that the latter has joined Omega Pharma-Quickstep. And when Renshaw and the rest of the team get Cav into the right position, no one can keep up with him.

So here we are on the ride into town. Everyone's looking for Cav. His own country, his mum's hometown, the Princes and Kate waiting at the finish line-- there's some pressure. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Fabian Cancellara decides to take a bit of a stab at it. Spartactus, as they call him, has jumped too early, and is soon enough caught, but it's exhilarating to watch. Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel push and push and-- what the hell? There is a crash. Right there. RIGHT THERE AT THE END. Cav has tried to muscle past Simon Gerrans, and both men have gone down! And there is ONE man left down on the ground: and it fucking well has to be Mark Cavendish.

Marcel Kittel takes the day, just edging out Peter Sagan. And hey, I don't want anyone to think I'm not thrilled for the guy. But to see Cav helped back onto his bike just so he can cross the line, holding his right arm across his ribs in that awful, all-too-familiar way that says, "I've snapped my collarbone," is heartbreaking. This should have been his day. It should have been his first sprint win of the 2014 Tour de France. Now it looks like it's probably his last day.

Well. Welcome to the Tour.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
The Tour starts in the morning.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
No, I don't know, either. It's just something I'm playing with in my head.

When I was in school, a teenager-- before I knew how OMG screwed-up my romantic existence was going to be-- I had a pattern: I would like a guy, he would, once in a great while, like me. I would be fine for a short while, and then decide I didn't like him at ALL, and he needed to GTFO, thankyouverymuch. I usually hid that, and continued on in a welter of screwed-up emotions, until I decided that yes, I DID like him. Just before things went completely south one way or the other, and he ran. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So now, here I am, having gone through all of that yet again. Except for the very last step. Now I find myself in yet further uncharted territory: I like him, he likes me, and no one's going anywhere. As in, we're having conversations about stuff I didn't know I COULD discuss, and I'm already wondering what he'd like for Christmas. I'm trying to figure out what I'm comfortable with saying publicly about him and our private lives, cos I don't think I have to worry about him turning into nothing more than a poignant memory next month. I'm trying to figure out how to introduce him to my aunt, and wondering if I ever want to introduce him to the rest of my family. And weirdest of all: I'm happy. I don't mean to imply I've jettisoned all my issues and monsters, no, but…I'm actually happy.

And I have no idea what to do about it.

I've explored the first few rooms of this house (and amusingly, I haven't actually dreamt about a house in weeks, now), but I've finally gotten through another door, and am finding out all kinds of things. I'm learning how to open up, and I'm learning about managing my emotional landscape in the context of exploring someone else's emotional landscape. And I'm learning that this stuff is really, really hard, and really scary.

He knows about my past experiences, and he is utterly respectful, kind, caring, and considerate. He checks in. He asks if I'm okay. He stops and looks me in the eye. He listens. And that's great, but it means I have to be emotionally honest. I'm doing my utmost best, but sometimes, I don't even know where the closed doors are. I've flat-out told him, "I'm not always going to know when I'm keeping things from you. When I'm afraid of you." But then we talk about that, too. And I go back to both thinking he's amazing and wondering how I'm ever going to figure all of this out.

It's okay, though. Cos we're going to sit down, turn on Cosmos in the background, and talk about it.
ysobelle: (Kayli)
I don't post much here, I know. Though in a talk with my friend Amy B this afternoon, we both agreed the Days of Live Journal and email lists should probably return, Facebook being bad for conversations and philosophizing. Anyway. I'm still here, I still have things to say, and amazingly, for once, I'm happy. I mean serious, long-term, pleasant, optimistic happy. Not everything is daisies and puppies, as Buffy said, but I'm really doing okay, and sort of astonished about it. I just feel like I'm on a good track, and in a good place. How odd.

Of course, there's still so much to do to wrangle MayFaire Moon to a decent growth rate. So much to do to get my Korean up to a decent enough level to survive ten days in Seoul next year. (If one more person tells me, "Man, they all speak English over there," I'll weep. I know. That's not the point.) Miles to go before my apartment is in decent shape. Before my body is in decent shape. I don't want perfection. I'd just like some more contentment. But I'm sanguine about it all, for the most part. There are a hundred thousand things that could go wrong, but hey, at least I can say I'm not stagnant, and I'm not giving up on anything. I'm trying a lot of new things, lately, and it's kinda cool. I'm not the person I was a year ago, and I'm sure as hell not the person I was three years ago, or two years ago, when I was possibly at my lowest ever. I think I did say back then that the only way out was through, and hey, here I am.

Pretty cool.
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