Category Archives: Tour de France 2011

Tour de France: Last thoughts on the Tour

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The Tour de France is over for another year. Cadel Evans is taking Le Maillot Jaune back to Australia The first time any one from the Southern Hemisphere has done that. Mark Cavendish is taking the Le Maillot Vert back the Isle of Man. The first time any British qualified rider has won The Green Jersey. I was going to say Rider from the British Isles, but then remembered that Sean Kelly won the thing four times back in the Eighties. “Cav”is also the first rider since Robert Millar won the Polka-dot Jersey in 1984, to win a Jersey in the tour de France.
But wait, there’s more

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Tour de France: The Final Stage Cadel Evans Wins Overall Cavendish Takes Green

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The last stage of any Tour de France follows more or less the same script and for the past two years the script has been this; A play in six acts:

  1. Much faffing about drinking champagne and having photos taken.
  2. Gentle ride to the centre of Paris, gradually picking up the pace as the race approaches the Champs-Élysées
  3. The Yellow Jersey’s team lead the race onto the Champs-Élysées
  4. A break of about half a dozen riders gets about 30 seconds to a minute
  5. HTC and/or the other sprinters teams decide to stop faffing and set about closing down the break
  6. Mark Cavendish wins the stage

It seemed likely that the script would be followed again, because if Cavendish won the stage he would win the Green Jersey.

But wait, there’s more

Yesterday

With all of yesterday’s tragic news, the murder of ninety teenagers in Norway, the death of Amy Winehouse it seems strange that the thing that got me nearest to tears was this series if tweets from David Millar (@millarmind)

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
In team car being driven to hotel. Chatting to VdV & spot cyclist on autoroute ahead, dressed in full Europcar kit.
Looks oddly familiar.Chat stops, tell car to slow. As we pass have time to look into eyes of a tired and broken Voeckler. Tragic doesn’t come close to describe.

Sometimes the scale of the tragedy is too big for me to fully comprehend, as in the case of the Norwegian killings. Don’t misunderstand me, I am fully aware of the pain and sorrow that the families and friends of all those killed, indeed the Norwegian nation, are going through, it is just that I can’t take it in. Amy Winehouse had a fine voice, but I wasn’t a great fan of hers. Her death left me feeling that it was tragic, but somehow inevitable.

So why did this little vignette get to me. I don’t know any of the participants (David Millar, Christian VandeVelde or Thomas Voeckler), but every night for the past fortnight I have watched Thomas Voeckler ride his heart out to keep hold of the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France. (You can read my posts about it here.) It just seemed unbearably sad, that after all his efforts he was riding on his own back to, I hope, his team hotel.

Tour de France: The Time Trial – Cadel Evans takes Yellow

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The time trial, or contre la montre if you are feeling French, around Grenoble was the decisive stage as far as Le Maillot Jaune and le Maillot Blanc (for the best rider under 25). Le Maillot au Pois Rouge (polka dot jersey) has already been decided, as there are no more classified climbs between l’Alpe d’Huez and les Champs-Élysées. Barring a serious accident or illness, which is unlikely, Samuel Sánchez will wear that jersey on the final podium. The team competition was as good as in the bag for Garmin-Cérvelo, although disastrous rides by all their time trial specialists and brilliant rides by AG2R and/or Leopard-Trek could, in theory, have seen them lose. Nothing much was going to happen with Le Maillot Verte (points competition). The final sprint on the Champs-Élysées will decide the winner

Stage 20

Stage 20 was a 42.5 km loop starting and finishing in Grenoble. Today’s story was simple. Cadel Evans, who is one of the better time-trialists in the peleton had 4 seconds to make up on Frank Schleck and 57 seconds to make up on Frank’s Brother Andy if he was to win the Tour de France. Frank and Andy, historically, are comparatively weak against the clock. The stage was set for the dénouement.

Any tension there might have been was over by the first time check after 15 km. Evans was already 36 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck and by the second time check at 27.5 km it was officially game over as Evans was 1:49 ahead of Andy Schleck, or 52 seconds ahead overall. The only question left was could he win the stage as well as the Tour? He didn’t quite manage that he finished second.

There were a couple of minor sub-plots. Who, if any of the specialists against the clock, such as Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and David Millar still had enough left in their legs after nineteen stages of working for team-mates to put in a winning ride? The Young Riders competition was still up for grabs. Rein Taaramae trailed yesterdays hero Pierre Rolland by 1:33. This was a similar scenario the fight for Yellow. Taaramae is easily the better of the two against the clock, but could he make up the deficit?

Tony Martin took the stage by 7 seconds, but I don’t think Evans was too upset about that. The other contre la montre specialists didn’t feature. The weather when Fabian Cancellara and David Millar rode was not particularly favourable, but the real reason they failed was that after a long hard tour they just did not have enough left in their legs. Pierre Rolland kept his lead in the Young Riders Competition. Garmin-Cérvelo kept the lead in the Team Competition. Samuel Sánchez didn’t fall off, in fact he produced a surprisingly strong ride to finish the stage in seventh place, so keeping the Mountains Jersey.

Cadel Evans
Someone also took a very unusual photograph of Cadel Evans. (Evans is a complex, emotional, and often prickly character, hence his nickname, given by the cycling press, “Cuddles”) The photo shows him wearing Le Maillot Jaune and smiling. The relationship between these two things has not been proven, but should not be discounted.

The Finalé

After breakfast in Grenoble, the riders travel via TGV to the start of today’s 21st and final stage in the Parisian suburb of Créteil for the 95 km ride to the finish on les Champs-Élysées
The final stage is often described as ceremonial, and in some ways, especially as regards the General Classification, it is.The Points Competition is still up for grabs. Mark Cavendish has a lead over Jose Joaquin Rojas of 15 points. There are a maximum of 65 points available for won on todays stage. It will all come down to the final sprint. Cav has won on les Champs-Élysées for the past two years, his team are the best in the business at setting him up for the sprint. It is a forgone conclusion, no?
We will know by about four this afternoon.
My post for today’s stage and my overall thoughts on this year’s Tour will be up sometime after that.

Tour de France: L’Alpe d’Huez

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I thought that the racing in the Pyrenees was a bit boring, and said so in a couple of my recent posts. The riders have more than made up for their apparent reluctance to race properly since Le Tour hit the Alps.@lancearmstrong agrees with me, he tweeted earlier;

If you thought the Pyrenees were boring (I admit, so did I) then the boys are making up for it yesterday and today!

Stage 19

Stage 19 was short (by Tour de France standards) 109.5 km trip from Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez. That is the sort of distance that I might do on a Saturday ride. I probably wouldn’t take my route over the Col du Telégraph the Col du Galibier and finish it 1850m up on l’Alpe d’Huez. and I couldn’t even dream of trying to do that distance in just over three hours, even if it was pan flat.

The stage produced another fascinating afternoon of racing. This time with Alberto Contador animating the race. I was working at home today and I managed to resist going downstairs to watch it, just relying on cyclingnews.com’s live text report to keep up with what was happening. I cracked before Thomas Voeckler did for the second time, and went down and put the telly on to watch the final climb.

I’m not sure why Contador initially attacked on the Col du Telégraph, if he was only intending to win the stage, surely he would have been better to wait until the final climb? If it was to try to win the Tour, then it was a brave move, but the 45 km descent from the Galibier to Bourg d’Ossians was always likely to bring the race back together at the foot of the final climb. It might just have been a show of defiance.

Another thread in the narrative of this year’s race  has been the failure of a French rider to win a stage. Norway has two riders in the race, France had forty-four at the start of the race. A the start of today’s stage the score was Norway 4 France 0 – slightly embarrassing. Thomas Voeckler salvaged a lot of national pride with his time in le Maillot Jaune, but as early as the Col du Telégraph, when he found himself stuck in no-man’s land after trying and failing to go with Contador’s first attack, it was obvious that today would be the day when he was going to finally lose the jersey. Pierre Roland, the rider who has been Voeckler’s bodyguard throughout his time in yellow was given his freedom to ride his own race. He grabbed it with both hands.

He attacked initially with Ryder Hesjedal at the bottom of the final climb. They were both caught by Alberto Contador after he had attacked the GC group. They dropped Hesjedal soon after that. Roland hung on for a while after before Contador gradually rode away from him. With about 5km to go Samuel Sánchez attacked the Schleck/Evans group and quickly bridged up to Pierre Roland, Roland took his wheel and allowed Sánchez to take them both up to Contador. By this time Contador was beginning to fade, not too much, but you could see that it was beginning to hurt seriously. Roland attacked and neither Sánchez or Contador could do anything to counter. He rode off to record the first French stage win of this Tour, and the first French win on Alpe d’Huez since Bernard Hinault won there in 1986.

About a minute further back the Schlecks and Cadel Evans were having a slightly bad-tempered stalemate. Andy Schleck wanted Evans to ride, Evans said no, there are two of you and only one of me. The all eventually finished in the same time, about a minute down on Roland.

Tomorrow

Three of the competitions are pretty well tied up. Samuel Sánchez, by finishing second on the stage today picked up enough mountain points to put him into the lead in the King of the Mountains competition, and since there are no more climbs he has won the Polka-dot Jersey. Garmin-Cérvelo have the team prize as good as won, and Mark Cavendish looks to have the Green Jersey tied up as well. Cav lost another twenty points for finishing outside the time limit (along with roughly half the peleton) but his nearest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas was also in the same group so he lost 20 points as well. The Green Jersey is now his to lose.

Le Maillot Jaune is still very much in the balance. Andy Schleck has 57 seconds lead over Cadel Evans (and 53 second over his brother Frank, but I am assuming that Frank won’t try to beat Andy). Evans is a better time trialist than either of the brothers. Andy Schleck’s time trialling has improved over the years, and in last years final time trial, he matched Alberto Contador for a long time before fading slightly towards the end.

A reporter asked him whether he would beat Andy Schleck by enough to win the Tour a very grouchy and monosyllabic “Cuddles” stated;

“I’ve had been is a similar position twice before, and both times I lost.”

We will find the answer about quarter past five tomorrow afternoon. For what it’s worth I think that he probably has enough of a time trial to take the required 57 seconds back, but it could be as close as 1989

The stage will be won by Fabian Cancellara, probably with Tony Martin second and possibly David Millar third.

Tour de France: The Galibier

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I am glad to see that Andy Schleck reads my blog and takes my advice. Yesterday I suggested that it would be good if one of the favourites went for it on the Col d’Izoard and put 10 minutes into the race in the style of the great riders of the past. Andy Schleck, channelling the spirit of the great Luxembourgian climber of the fifties Charly Gaul, did just that. Well except for the ten minutes. He managed about two and a half, and didn’t quite manage to dislodge Thomas Voeckler from le Maillot Jaune.

Alberto Contador struggled and eventually failed to hold the group containing Cadel Evans (who did almost all the pace-making), Voeckler and Frank Schleck. He eventually finished fifteenth on the stage and lost 3:50 to Andy Schleck. His hopes of winning the Tour are probably over.

Tomorrow’s stage to L’Alpe d’Huez may decide the winner. If Andy Schleck can repeat what he did today then it is all over bar the shouting. However, today’s escapade may have taken a lot out of him, so he could be vulnerable to an attack. Voeckler continues to ride to his absolute limits to keep the Jersey. He had to be lifted off his bike at the finish today, and while I now think it is unlikely, I do not completely rule out his standing on the top step on the Champs Elyeese.

Tour de France Part 5: Norway…… Cycling capital of the world!!

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Last Sunday after Darren Clarke had won the Open Golf Championship Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) tweeted:

Northern Ireland…… Golf capital of the world!!

Today we have to say:
“Norway…… Cycling capital of the world!!”

Stage 17

Stage 17 went 179km from Gap to Pinerolo. The two biggest climbs of the day were the Cat.2 Col de Montgenèvre, which took the race into Italy and the Cat.1 climb up to Sestrières ( a stage finish in the past). A 40km descent to the foot of the final climb the Cat.2 Côte de Pramartino, followed. The peleton allowed a fourteen rider break-away to form and by the time they reached the intermediate sprint at 81.5 km they had a six-minute lead. The main contenders were content to bide their time on the first two climbs as any time gained would have easily been brought back on the long descent.

Edvald Boassen Hagen wins in Pinerolo

After losing out in the sprint yesterday Edvald Boasson Hagen decided that there was no way this was going to happen again. On the Côte de Pramartino he countered a Sylvain Chavanel attack, sat on his wheel for a few seconds then went himself. Chavanel couldn’t counter and Boasson Hagen rode away for a well deserved stage win.

Behind him in the Yellow Jersey group Alberto Contador was trying to attack the same way he did yesterday, but with less effect. He probably didn't want to go too deep today, bearing in mind tomorrow’s massive stage over three hors categorié climbs and finishing at the top of the Col du Galibier. I also think that Andy Schleck was a bit more with it today. That said Contador did manage to open a bit of a gap on the descent into Pinerolo, but the Schlecks and Cadel Evans closed it down in the last kilometre. Thomas Voeckler managed to lose a few seconds by overcooking a bend on the descent. Fortunately some one had left the gate to their driveway open so he got away with it, it could have been disastrous if they had left it closed.

The Tour organisers are probably hoping that tomorrows stage will define the Tour. My fear is that it is so hard that riders will ride very conservatively and only think about attacking in the final few kilometres. I would like to see someone take a chance and go on the Col d’Izoard and try to put 10 minutes into the race in the style of Coppi or Charly Gaul, but some how I don’t think that is going to happen. However in the meantime don’t forget;

“Norway…… Cycling capital of the world!!”

Tour de France Part 4: Gaps in Gap

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At last we had some racing from the GC contenders. Way up ahead we had Edvald Boasson Hagen as the meat in a Garmin sandwich (a few years ago we could have called it a Chipotle burrito). We might talk about that later, because it was the events five minutes back that interested me.

Stage 16

Stage 16 was a 151k uphill drag from Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux to the top of the Cat.2 climb of the Col de Manse, followed by a wet, technical 10km descent into the finish in Gap.This is the descent that featured in Lance Armstrong’s famous off-road excursion in 2003.

On that final climb and descent we had the first real racing of this years tour. Alberto Contador had come out of the rest day feeling, well, rested and ready to race. He put in three real attacks. Not up the pace for five seconds and look round to make sure your brother is still there attacks, but put the hammer down for a minute then see who you have got rid of, keep the pace high to make sure the guys you’ve dropped don’t get back on, then go again to try to get rid of the rest, type attacks. By the time Contador had done this three times only Cadel Evans and Samuel Sánchez were still with him. Then over the top of the climb Evans, knowing that he is a better descender than Contador attacked him to try to put some more time into everyone. This is bike racing.

Thomas Voeckler still has the Maillot Jaune although his lead over Cadel Evans is now down to 1:45. Andy Schleck, lost over a minute, and did much whining about the descent. He is not a very good descender but there is more to bike racing than riding up mountains.

Thor Hushovd winning in Gap
Thor Hushovd, is a good descender and he can still sprint when required, even if he can’t match Cavendish and Farrar any longer. His kick for the line, ably assisted by Ryder Hesjedal was good enough to beat Boasson Hagen and he registered his third (including the Team Time Trial) stage win of the Tour. So with his week in the Maillot Jaune and his stage wins I think that he is reasonably satisfied with his tour so far.

The profile of tomorrows stage from Gap to Pinerolo looks much like today’s, so can we hope for some more racing. Contador seems up for it; Evans matched everything that Contador threw at him today, and the attacked on the descent; Thomas Voeckler will continue to fight to keep the Jersey. The only question marks are the Schlecks, who on today’s showing are not quite there either physically or more importantly mentally.

Tour de France Part 3: Second Rest Day

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Le Tour is now into its last week and as the riders take their second rest day I will take the chance to recap on the happenings since the last rest day and to update my predictions.

Stage 10

Stage ten took us from Aurillac to Carmaux was a typical transition stage through the Massif Central up and down all day with a scattering of third and fourth category climbs to keep riders who fancied wearing le maillot à pois for a day interested. The stage should have been one for a breakaway, but in the end it came down to a bunch sprint. The big surprise of the day was not that Thomas Voeckler kept the yellow, but that Mark Cavendish was beaten in a bunch sprint.

Philippe Gilbert found himself in a win/win situation. He attacked on the short but brutal final climb.He knew that if he got a gap he had a reasonable chance of winning the stage and even if HTC brought him back it would seriously mess up Cavendish’s lead out train. HTC did bring him back, but the result was Cavendish being left to his own devices in the last 500m. Cavendish said he made a mistake and didn’t go hard enough when went for the line. Possibly that was the case, but André Greipel (who left HTC to get out of Cavendish’s shadow) managed to pass him to record his first ever Tour de France stage win.

Stage 11

Stage 11 was from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur, another transition stage taking Le Tour to the foothills of the Pyrenees. There was a bit of climbing, a Cat.3 climb about 30 km from the start and a Cat.4 about 30 km from the finish. The parcours was a bit up and down but the last 30 kilometres were down hill or flat. I was probably the last stage before Paris that had bunch sprint written all over it and Mark Cavendish had a rare defeat to avenge. Actually to give “Cav” his due he was generous in his praise for the way Griepel took the stage. That wasn’t going to stop him trying to win this one though.

There were no late attacks to-day and his team gave him a textbook lead out and Cavendish finished it off in his normal style. Thomas Voeckler hep the Yellow for another day.

Stage 12

Col du Tourmalet
Stage 12 took us from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden and into le haute montange for the fist time. It was a bit of an anti-climax. Geraint Thomas and the inevitable and indomitable Jeremy Roy were the first two riders over the Col du Tourmalet. BY the foot of the Climb to Luz-Ardiden their escape was over. Samuel Sánchez and Jelle Vanendert got away from the group of the overall contenders and worked well to keep their gap. The Olympic Champion Sánchez manage to jump away in the last 500m to take the stage.

Further back down the mountain the group that Phil Ligget refers to as the “heads of state” – the GC contenders seemed content to try mini attacks which went nowhere and were easily covered. Frank Schleck eventually managed to get away, but only managed to put about 20 seconds into the rest of the group. Contador, who had not looked on the top of his game lost an extra 13 seconds. Thomas Voeckler who had done more than just hang on, kept le maillot jaune.

Stage 13

Stage 13 from Pau to Lourdes had the pundits talking inevitably about miracles. I suppose it was a minor miracle that one of the heaviest riders in the race, and sprinter to boot, (although he was always a lot more than just a sprinter) the World Champion Thor Hushovd won a stage that included the hors catégorie climb of the Col d’Aubisque. The summit was too far from the finish to make it worthwhile for the GC riders to waste energy trying to drop each-other. The stage looked like a stage for a breakaway specialist. Step up Jeremy Roy, who must have thought that he had finally cracked winning a stage, he had two-minute at the top of the Aubisque and about 40km downhill all the way to Lourdes. Disappointment, is probably far to mild a word to express what he felt when Hushovd came pst with 3km to go. He got the lead in the King of the Mountains competition as compensation, but I am certain he would have swapped it for the stage win.

Thor Hushovd thoroughly deserved the win. He rode a brilliant tactical race, covered his weakness in climbing, and played to strengths. He showed exactly why he is wearing the rainbow jersey this year. Thomas Voeckler kept yellow (obviously).

Stage 14

Stage 14 from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille was almost a carbon copy of Stage 12 to Luz-Ardiden. British rider in the early break, check. It was David Millar this time and not Geraint Thomas. Thomas Voeckler riding reasonably comfortably in the GC contenders group, check. Samuel Sánchez and Jelle Vanendert getting away from the GC group, check. Though this time it was Vanendert who took the stage. GC contenders making pretend attacks the giving up when some one tried to follow, check. A Schleck charging off in the last kilometre to gain a few seconds, check, though this time it was Andy and not Frank.

Stage 15

Stage 15 from Limoux to Montpellier was a flat transitional stage, taking the riders away from the Pyrenees towards the Alps. Obviously there was an early break, obviously HTC chased the break down and obviously “Cav”, despite some attempts by Sky, Garmin, Lampre and Liquigas to disrupt his lead out train, Mark Renshaw dropped him off at 200m to go. Obviously Mark Cavendish won the stage, taking his total stage victories to nineteen and setting a record of being the only rider to win four road (as opposed to prologue or time-trial) stages every year for four years. Even Eddy Merckx can’t match that.
He also extended his lead in the Points competition.

Rest day thoughts

The Green Jersey looks like it is Mark Cavendish’s to lose. Phillipe Gilbert could pick up points n the next two stages, but he is 70 points back, and won’t beat Cavendish on the Champs Elysees. His biggest danger elimination on time delays in the mountains, especially the stage that finishes at the top of the Col du Galibier.

The situation in the GC is not what I expected after the Pyrenees. I, along with the man himself, thought that Thomas Voekler’s time in yellow would finish at Luz-Ardiden. He has however ridden well and courageously and still has a lead of 1:49 over Frank Schleck and over two minutes to Cadel Evans, and Andy Schleck. Basso is just over 3 minutes back and Contador is 4 minutes off the pace.

I’m not sure if they are all at about the same level and can’t drop each other, or no one is yet willing to take the risk of losing the tour by making a major attack and blowing up, but what I do think is that if the racing in the Alps continues in the same vein as it did in the Pyrenees, the Thomas Voeckler on the top step of the podium next Sunday is a distinct possibility. If either of the Schlecks or Basso wants to win they need to have at least two minutes on Cadel Evans going into the time-trial. Contador would need to be at least level with him. Some one somewhere is going to have to attack and persist, the probably attack again if they want to win this race.

I am beginning to get the feeling that Andy and Frank Schleck don’t want to drop each other and when one attacks he seems to wait for the other, allowing everyone else back in. Liege-Bastoinge-Liege did show that they are not the sharpest knives in the block when it comes to tactics, though even a tactical genius of the calibre of Dimitri Konyshev could not have done anything against Philippe Gilbert that day.

Predictions? Cadel Evans for yellow in Paris, the other two steps I really don’t know. Contador is improving, but need to get four minutes, I think the Schlecks will find a way to lose the race between them. Basso and Samuel Sánchez are both looking good, but I don’t think quite good enough to win. And as I have already said don’t rule out Thomas Voeckler.

Tour de France 2011 – Part 2: Rest Day Reflections

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My original intention was to post my thoughts on the Tour daily, but life got in the way. So these are my thoughts on the first nine days

Stage 3

Stage three from Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon was the first of this years tour that offered an opportunity to the pure, as opposed to uphill sprinters. It followed a fairly predictable pattern, an early break by a few riders from French teams and/or Vaconsoliel, steadily reeled in by Garmin and HTC, with some help from other teams. I suppose that it was also fairly predictable, that being his first opportunity at a stage win, things didn’t go quite right for Mark Cavendish aka “The Fastest Man in the World”©. I’m not sure if Garmin successfully disrupted his lead-out train, or whether HTC just messed it up, but either way they failed to deliver him at the 200m to go sign the way they normally do. Garmin have clearly worked out who is going for what sprint and the Maillot Jaune Thor Hushvod, who no longer has the absolute top end speed of a flat-land sprinter, gave Tyler Farrar a perfect lead out to take his first ever individual stage win in the Tour de France.

Tyler Farrar wins Stage 3

About six weeks ago Tyler Farrar’s friend and training partner Wouter Weyland was killed in a horrific crash at the Giro d’Italia. Tyler dedicated the stage win to his memory.

“Cav” also ran into an almost inevitable conflict with the Race Referees. At the intermediate sprint, both he and Thor Hushvod were trying to get the same wheel, with the inevitable bit of pushing and shoving. Neither of the riders thought much about it, and it looked fairly innocuous to me, but the referees thought otherwise and disqualified them both from the sprint and fined them 200 SFr.

Stage 4

Stage 4 finished on the Mur de Bretange which is a beast of a hill in the middle of Brittany. It is about 2km long and ramps up at around 8 to 10%. So http://www.slipstreamsports.com/garmin-slipstream-pro-team/pro-men/thor-hushovd was widely tipped (including by himself) to lose the maillot jaune. It was a stage made for the type of rider who excels in the Ardennes classics. I other words Philippe Gilbert. It didn’t work out as expected though.

The peleton caught the inevitable breakaway a bit before the serious bit of the race. When it cane to the Mur a few riders had a dig including Gilbert and Contador but the guy who hung on to win by about a tyres width was Cadel Evans. Considering the length and the quality of his career I was slightly surprised to find that this was the first ever stage win in the Tour de France. Climbing out of his skin and into sixth place, in the same time as the winner was the MIghty Thor, holding on to his yellow jersey for another day.

Stage 5

Stage 5 took us from Carhaix to Cap Fréhel we were still in Brittany, narrow winding roads cross winds and lots of opportunities to crash. The stage was sort of sprinters stage, but the finish was again uphill, not as long and steep as yesterday, but steep enough to make it difficult for the flat-earth sprinters. Mark Cavendish decided to prove the organisers wrong. I’m not sure where he popped up from, but in the midst of a bunch of uphill sprinters like Phillipe Gilbert and Edvald Boassen-Hagen “Cav” popped up to take the stage.

Stage 6

Stage 6 took us from Dinan (in Brittany) – Lisieux (in Normandy). It was another uphill finish. Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar must be wondering exactly what they have done to upset the organisers of the Tour de France.

The stage was notable because it was the first stage won by a British team for 43 years, not as long as the wait to win Wimbledon or the World Cup, but up their with them. A slight pity then that the winner was a Norwegian riding for Team Sky. Edvald Boassen-Hagen was perfectly set up for the stage by Geraint Thomas and took the win well. Oh the other Norwegian on the tour took third on the stage and kept the maillot jaune for another day.

Stage 7

Stage 7 ran from Le Mans to Châteauroux . Chateauroux was the scene of Mark Cavendish’s first ever stage win in the Tour de France, so would anyone like to guess what happened. Correct, HTC with all nine riders on the front gave Cavendish the perfect lead out, dropping him off with about 200m to go and he finished the job. It was probably made slightly easier because a crash delayed Tyler Farrar, the only other sprinter in the same league as “Cav”, wasn’t around to contest the sprint.

Thor Hushvod finished 7th and kept the lead for yet another day

Other news from a British perspective was  that Bradley Wiggins had to abandon, following a chute which left him with a broken collar-bone. This was a big disappointment as was in excellent form. I don’t think he would have won the race, but he would have challenged for a place on the final podium.

Stage 8

Stage 8 from Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy was supposed to be the stage when the favourites showed their hand for the first time, and it was definitely the stage that would finally see Thor Hushvod relieved of the Maillot Jaune. The Moyen Montagne of the Massif Centrale was supposed to be too much for him, the first Category 2 climb of the tour and then the climb up to Super Besse should surely see him out the back.

Thor Hushvod Yellow @Super Besse

Yet again this didn’t happen. The favourites were understandably a bit reluctant to blow their brains out for gains that would be insignificant when the real mountains arrive in the middle of the week. and Hushvod well supported by his team, finished comfortably with the leaders yet again.

Stage 9

A crash strewn Stage 9 from Issoire to Saint-Flour was the day that Garmin-Cérvelo and The Mighty Thor ran out of luck. A massive pile up on the descent from the Puy Mary saw Alexandre Vinokourov, Jurgen Van den Broeck, his team-mate Fredrik Willems and Garmin-Cervélo’s Dave Zabriskie all forced to abandon. Later on to wards the end of the stage a piece of what at best could be described as thoughtless driving by a French television car took out two of the riders, Juan-Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, in the winning break. Flecha seemed to get away comparatively minor with cuts and bruises, but Hoogerland was pitched into a barbed wire fence.

Garmin’s original tactics had been to put David Millar into the break which everyone knew would include Thomas Voekler. This would have had two effects. First it would have put the onus on the other teams to chase and secondly as Millar was only 8 seconds off the lead himself, it would have discouraged Voekler as Millar would have inherited the Yellow Jersey if the break had made it to the finish. Unfortunately Millar had a minor fall and was still being patched up behind the peleton when Luis Leon Sánchez (who won the stage), Voeckler, Sandy Casar, Hoogerland, and Flecha took off.

The crash on the Puy Mary caused the peleton to declare a temporary truce to allow the riders caucht behind the crash to get back on, and by the time the truce was declared over the break’s lead had gone out from a manageable three minutes to round about ten. In addition Thor’s man for pulling back the breaks, Dave Zabriskie, was in an ambulance with a broken wrist. So after a full week on Thor’s shoulders the Maillot Jaune passed to Thomas Voeckler. The last time he held the jersey was in 2004 he kept it for ten days. His dogged determination to keep it turned him into the most popular rider in France. I doubt he will hold it for that long this time, but he should keep hold of it until The Pyrenees.

Rest Day

The first nine days have already shaped the Tour quite a bit. Two riders(Bradley Wiggins and Jurgen Van den Broeck) who had legitimate aspirations of standing on the podium in Paris are out. Alexandre Vinokourov a rider who does shake things up with his attacks is also out. Other contenders such as Andreas Kloeden, and Alberto Contador have been involved in crashes, Contador more than once. The problem with this is that even though the damage is limited to a bit of road rash, every time you come off it takes a little more out of you. The Schlecks and Cadel Evans have both escaped so far.

In my opinion the two main stories so far have been Thor Hushvod’s defence of the Maillot Jaune and Phillipe Gilbert’s attempts to win the Green Jersey and stages. The Green Jersey competition looks like a three-way fight between him, Mark Cavendish and Jose Joaquin Rojas. Cavendish is the best sprinter, Gilbert can pick up points on more hilly stages, but probably not in the high mountains, Rojas can do a bit of both, but isn’t as good as Gilbert in the hills and isn’t as fast as Cav in the sprints. Thor Hushvod shouldn’t be ruled out either. If you asked me to place a bet my money would be on Cavendish, but I would want decent odds.

As regards the General Classification, from what I have seen so far, my judgement is that Contador is not at 100%, Andy Shleck hasn’t tried anything so far but has covered any moves without apparently breaking sweat. Cadel Evans looks close to his best form, has been aggressive, without wasting too much energy, and generally looks up for it.

My men for the podium in Paris (barring accidents or illness) are those three, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone like Nicholas Roche or Tom Danielson sneaks onto the bottom step.