Tour de France 2011 – Part 1

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Prologue

Well there isn’t a prologue this year. So you will have to make do with my musings on what is going to happen.

The GC (General Classification or Yellow Jersey) is I think it is a straight fight between Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard (last years winner) and Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek (last years runner-up). Schleck probably is a slightly better climber than Contador and has a stronger and more experienced team, (you don’t get stronger than Fabian Cancellara or more experienced than Stuart O’Grady and Jens Voigt), but Contador proved in 2009 that he can win without a team, or indeed with a team gave that appeared to be actively working against him. Contador is by far the best individual time trialist. The Team Time Trial is fairly short so no team (except possibly Euskatel) should lose too much time.

Who is going to win? I don’t know, but I will be very surprised, barring accidents or an early intervention by CAS, if Contador and Andy Schleck are not on the top two steps. The third step could be occupied by any one of about ten riders, Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto and Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team among the candidates.

The Points Competition (Green Jersey) has a new format this year with only one intermediate sprint per stage and not the two or three that there were in the past.. The other big difference is that the intermediate sprint is now worth 20 points to the winner with points going down to the first fifteen riders across the line. This means that anyone who wants to win the competition will have to go for the points at the intermediate sprint, unlike in earlier years when the overall contenders could rely on a breakaway mopping up the intermediate points and only have to worry about the final sprint. On paper the favourite to win the green jersey is Mark Cavendish, but he has a habit of sitting up in a sprint when he knows that he has been beaten, thus dropping points by finishing tenth when he could have been second or third. Thor Hushvod has stated that the Green Jersey is not his aim this year, so I think that it could well end up on the shoulders of his team-mate Tyler Farrar.

The King of the Mountains Competition (Polka Dot Jersey)has in recent years become a completion fought out by French riders who got themselves into early breaks and hoovered up the points available before the GC contenders started racing properly in the latter stages of the race. Like the Points competition the scoring has been altered this year, with fewer points available on the lesser climbs. This is possibly to discourage the opportunist French breakaway riders and encourage some of the bigger names to make it a goal if they lose time in the GC. Having said that I would like to see David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis win.

Stage 1

Saturday’s stage, unusually wasn’t a prologue time trial, but a road stage with a reasonably steep uphill finish. Philippe Gilbert was such a short-priced favourite for the stage that one Belgian punter was heard to remark that it would probably cost him money even if Gilbert won. Surprisingly enough Philippe Gilbert did win it and in style. His team controlled the race well into the finalé, including an amusing to watch, although probably not to do, 100m turn on the front, uphill, by André Griepel. Fabian Cancellara attacked with about 500m to go, forcing Gilbert to go probably a bit earlier than he had planned, but if Spartacus goes, you have to go with him if you want to win. Gilbert caught him and sat on for a few seconds to see what was going to do, then went himself. Cadel Evans tried to bridge across but didn’t manage and came second, with Thor Hushvod coming third and setting himself up nicely for an attempt at the yellow jersey in the following days team time trial.

The other incident that shaped the day, and could yet shape the tour was a mass pile up with about 10k to go. A spectator got too close to the action and caused an Astana rider to crash , bringing half the peleton with him. Alberto Contador although not actually involved, was caught behind the crash and lost about a minute and a half to his rivals.

Stage 2

The second stage of this years Tour de France was the Team Time Trial. Jonathon Vaughters the owner/manager of Team Garmin-Cervélo has tried to win a stage of the Tour de France for the past three years. In addition he has a bit of an obsession with the Team Time Trial. This is probably due the fact that one of the highlights of his career as a cyclist was winning the Team Time Trial stage in 2001 when he was a member of Roger Legay’s Credit Agricole team.

It all worked out perfectly for him and the team. They won the stage by 4 seconds and moved Thor Hushvod out of his world champions rainbow strips into the Maillot Jaune, though today he was rather incongruously wearing the polka dot jersey of the leader of the King of the Mountains competition. If you want to know why I suggest that you read the minutiae of the Rules & Regulations of the Tour de France (in French).
This is link is David Millar’s reaction to the win

Below is Johnathan Vaughter’s reaction.

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