‘C’est aussi ça #letour, une seconde d’inattention, un besoin naturel et un bon coup de vent! Sacrée étape, quel spectacle!’ @romainbardet
What was I saying yesterday? Forget all that.
WHAT A STAGE. A real bust-ass bike race. Many were saying it was a classic Dutch-style race (y’know like the pretzels) with the wind and the terrain, and racing-wise I was thinking it was like the Worlds. Goddamn but it was exciting.
For about the first half of the race it looked more or less like what everyone was expecting: a small break of non-contenders and a leisurely peloton ride ending in a group sprint. A slightly shorter and more rolling version of yesterday.
And two kilometres in, the requisite breakaway. Today it was Yohann Gene, Ruben Perez Moreno, Luis Maté, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Kris Boeckmans, and Cyril Lemoine. A brightly colored group:
The peloton broke into two groups and Kittel got trapped in the back. I was thinking about Cannondale controlling the race in stage 7 for Sagan and then Sky for Froome in stage 9 and how Kittel was screwed.
Contador punctured at 37 km into the race. Routine procedure, no one even noticed. He was back into the peloton easily.
Sherwen would not shut up about the wind (though I don’t think he mentioned the Isle of Man once). The peloton became three echelons. With all the fragmenting of the pack, I wasn’t keeping track of who was setting the pace and who was chasing. It seemed early in the race to focus on it.
Then at around 84 km to go, Valverde punctured. Was this the moment that kicked it off? It feels like it, in retrospect.
Changing his back wheel lost him 37 seconds on the first echelon (still chasing the breakaway at that point, I think) but he had help:
Valverde was still in it at this point, but there’s an sense of heartbreak in this posture nevertheless.
With 81 km to go — plenty of time! — Liggett said Movistar was ‘totally committed’ to helping Valverde back up. Yesterday I was liking Valverde’s chances precisely because of the strength of his team in the mountains. Today he needed that strength! Commit, men, commit!
And the race exploded into the best day of racing we’ve seen.
Valverde was losing time because Belkin was pushing the pace. Did they start to push only after Valverde was off his bike? Were they taking advantage of Valverde’s technical difficulty? Was Belkin being a bunch of dicks?
This is letour.fr's reporting in real time during the race:
15:11 — Seven Belkin riders at the front
The front peloton is now dominated by the Belkin team. There are seven from the Dutch squad now working with riders from Omega Pharma-Quickstep to try and keep the splits in the peloton open.
15:29 — Valverde with flat rear tyre
There are four Movistar riders out of the lead group after a puncture for Valverde.
15:34 — Belkin not waiting for Valverde
Valverde and his four team-mates have the lead peloton in their sights but there are riders from Belkin now swapping off with Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders at the front of the stage.
Valverde lost 0:37 with his wheel change.
Was it payback for the 2011 Tour de Suisse as @Nancy_Arreola said in the heat of the moment? (Twitter version below.) It was all happening too fast!
But, just looking at the time stamps here, it sure seems like Belkin was executing a move to assert Mollema and Ten Dam today. And they were hammering and the pack was just all kinds of strung out along the course. I was worried it would come down to who could get the most water bottles from their team car.
Liggett started to wonder why Valverde had wasted so much time changing wheels instead of taking a teammate’s bike. What was the big deal? The big deal was: Valverde was falling behind!
O’Grady and Orica started to push from the front of the third echelon but Valverde was at the back of that group and fell even further behind. Valverde was getting hammered! 1:40 behind with 42 km to go.
Up ahead, Belkin kept hammering the pace and it started to become clear that it was no longer about whether Valverde would catch the front group and instead about how much time he would lose.
And then the race changed entirely again.
With 30 km to go, Contador and Kreuziger attacked! A master stroke!
I have to think it was Contador’s intution borne of experience that saw this moment to attack. No way to plan for this, just instinct and will!
Yeah it’s a lousy screencap but this somehow captures what Saxo was about today.
Mollema, Ten Dam, Sagan, Fuglsang (hanging tough for Astana), and some others went with them! Cavendish, the eventual stage winner, was the last one to catch the attack and you have to think his sprinter’s survival instinct served him well to stay with Contador and Sagan. (And by ‘sprinter’s survival instinct’ I mean wheelsucking all the way to the finish.)
The Contador break moved away slowly:
At the time it seemed like there weren’t enough kilometres left for them to build up a really significant gap on Froome. (And how lucky was Froome not to have any technical difficulties!)
GC riders 3, 4, 5, 6, (and 7) were breaking away! Contador, Mollema, Kreuziger, Ten Dam, (and Kwiatkowski, unmentioned on TV but in there and riding for Cavendish). ‘You just don’t see that happen,’ Liggett said, which (forgive me) was exactly my point on stage 9 and also, uh, yesterday. Oh happy day, BIKE RACING IS BACK!
Valverde’s misfortunes, while huge, were now merely his own. Movistar was nowhere to be seen. Froome had been in the first echelon with Contador, Cavendish, and Sagan, but the yellow jersey was isolated again after Porte had been dropped (and you have to imagine he’s been suffering out there). Cannondale, Belkin, and Omega had numbers and were riding all strong. You have to wonder if Froome is going to be tough enough to hold on — today he had no answer when Contador attacked and could have just been riding to save his ass.
Froome in yellow and Quintana, no. 128
With 10 km to go, the attack — it was 14 guys in all — was widening the gap and there was no talk of the chase group (Froome, Griepel, Evans, Dan Martin, Quintana) reeling them in. One of the things that was unique about today was, the strong riders were in the breakaway. And they were riding under their own (collective) power, not as a four- or five-man train.
With 10 km to go, we knew one of the guys in the attack group was going to win and the big question wasn’t who would it be so much as how much time would Contador and Kreuziger gain on Froome? It was incredible to watch the action on the course translate directly into impact on the GC. (This is why road racing is visceral and time trialing is cerebral. Or something.)
Amazingly, thankfully, despite two crazy sharp turns inside the last 5 km, no crashes at the end of the stage. The sprint went to Cavendish, who outjockeyed more than outmuscled Sagan and Mollema. It was a funny, non-fast sprint; I think Cavendish had to coast to get in position behind Sagan before overtaking him, but Sagan wasn’t really punching and anyway the real battle had happened 30 km back. It was wild, thrilling.
Last night I was getting so excited about the mountains in week 3 that I made this page. Now that we’ve seen that we’ve got a Tour of real fighters, week 3 is going to be even more incredible!
This is a bit of the conversation from during the race:
This was the Belkin coach’s response:
I wondered about this question of payback, given that (Sherwen reported) Belkin signed on to sponsor this year’s Tour team only a week before the Tour started. It’s a pain in the ass to suss out what a team is in cycling, since sponsors as well as riders move around constantly, but here’s what I found.
Belkin did not exist in 2011 but based on key riders, the 2011 Rabobank team the relevant squad in the Tour de Suisse.
Riders who are underlined raced today for their respective team. Guitterez rode for Movistar in 2011 but he didn’t ride today because he withdrew after stage 9 a few days ago.
|Tour de Suisse||Tour de France|
|Bauke Mollema||Angel Madrazo Ruiz||Bauke Mollema||Rui da Costa|
|Tom Slagter||Jose Joaquin Rojas||Lars Petter Nordhaug||Jose Joaquin Rojas|
|Laurens ten Dam||Branislau Samoilau||Laurens ten Dam||Andrei Amador Bipkazacova|
|Maarten Wijnants||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi||Maarten Wijnants||Nairo Quintana|
|Oscar Freire Gomez||José Ivan Gutierrez||Robert Gesink||José Ivan Gutierrez|
|Matti Breschel||Marzio Bruseghin||Lars Boom||Alejandro Valverde|
|Steven Kruijswijk||Pablo Lastras Garcia||Tom Leezer||Jonathan Castroviejo|
|Pieter Weening||Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez||Bram Tankink||Ruben Plaza Molina|
|Sep Vanmarcke||Imanol Erviti Ollo|
|Source: Cycling News|
The point being, Valverde wasn’t even on the Movistar team in 2011! So it doesn’t make sense that Belkin would punish him today for something a different (in personnel) Movistar team did two years ago.
Totally agree with this by the way (bear in mind it was written in 2012 and not about today): Grow Some Balls. Which of course is a variant on the Velominati’s Harden The Fuck Up: