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We have had the next big mountain stage, and for Wiggo, there is only one left.  Only one more day where he will be threatened, and only one more man who is a threat.

Sadly, Cadel Evans’ shot at back to back Tour victories is done and dusted, if it wasn’t already.  On a truly massive day, where an enormous break got away early in the stage, the defending champ was in trouble on the earliest climbs, and only worsened through the day.  He had great help from his team, and did everything he could to stay in touch, but there is no hiding on the big hills.  If you’re a little bit off, you’re all the way done.

Thomas Voeckler again danced up the mountains with the grace of Peter Garret, eventually shimmying and shaking his way up the hills and dropping all of his rivals one by one through the stage.   He now holds the mountain jersey, and will likely hold it through to Paris.  Couple that with his two stage victories, and he has had almost as good a Tour this year as last.

Wiggo showed why he is the team leader of Sky today, taking the job over from Froomey when Nibali unleashed his assaults to shut everything down, and Wiggo is now borderline untouchable for the podium.  Tomorow will show if today hurt the Sky boys enough, but on form, it looks like Wiggo is home

Chapeau.

Ok.  We’ve had our rest day, complete with (seemingly) obligatory drug bust, and we’re ready to dive into the final, defining week.  More on Frank’s positive later.

Now we see if the hard racing that has been inflicted upon the peloton has had any effect on Team Sky.  It certainly showed with the break staying away and Fedrigo winning the stage over Christian “VDV” Vandevelde (DAMN I wanted to see him win one!) before the rest.  If there was a stage that had “sprinter” written all over it, that was it, but Sky were in energy conservation mode, Lotto had drilled themselves into a deep hole two stages earlier for Greipel’s third win and have to look aftter VDB tonight; leaving GreenEdge with a lot of work a long way out.  Unsurprisingly, they chose to not chase.

The last time Wiggo was in this situation (although racing for 3rd, not 1st) was in 2009 when he eventually lost a lot of time to the Schlecks and Contador, and a little time to Lance on a tough mountain stage.  He had VDV doing amazing work then, and Froomey to do the job now, and we shall see if he’s been softened up by Nibali, Cadel, et  al, or if he’s still got more in the tank.   Seeing how meticulous Sky have been, you can only assume that he will come through this stage with flying colours.

The hope from Nibali and Cadel is that it is too hard to maintain amazing form for three weeeks of racing, and so Wiggo will be on the wane while they are both on the improve.  They thus will hope to make today intensely hard, with the expectation that even if he defends well today, he will be that much deeper in the hole tomorrow on an even tougher stage, and they will get the time they need then.

The big question will be if they crack Wiggo early, does Froomey go with the leaders, or stick with Wiggo.  I think it’ll be a moot point as Wiggo is on song, but if it were to happen, I reckon Froomey would have to leave Wiggo behind.

That’s for tomorrow – today, I’m on Nibali from VDB from Evans.

Upholstery tacks?  Seriously?  Clearly my “Ugly Fans” rant was two days too soon.  The Tour is such a great spectacle partly because of the amazing numbers of fans lining the road.  Sadly it is a statistical certainty that with enough people in a group, you will have a number of imbeciles shouting hatred for their own stupid reasons, and another group of vandals risking other peoples’ lives and livelihoods for whatever reason: ideology, dumb self gratification, whatever.

It was shaping up to be a cool stage too: the break was doing what breaks do (I can’t believe Sagan dragged himself over the wall in touch with them all trying to drop him) and LL Sanchez eventually won himself the day with a very smart move a long way out from the finish line.

The cool bit was waiting to see what would be happening with the big shots having a go at each other on such a treacherous hill.  Sadly the end result was a stage very sportingly neutralised by Wiggo and Team Sky.

Sigh…

Tonight’s stage will be a sprint, and I reckon it’ll be Cav from Gossy from Greipel, and hopefully there will be no idiots taking it upon themselves  to become part of the race.

Mountain passes & hills 2

It’s not called a wall for nothing!

Cadel Evans’ aggressive riding late in Stage 13, and the subsequent carnage and one day style “balls to the wall” racing has assured us of one thing this Tour: we don’t know what’s next!  Today is a day with two large climbs a long way out from the finish, the second including ramps up to 18%, and peaking some 40km from the finish.  The descent ends about 20km from the line, and the whole stage is right by the southern coastline again, bringing wind into the equation.  Interestingly, about 30 of the final 40km will likely have a good tailwind, then the final loop around the finish town of Foix is likely to have 6km of cross-tailwind followed by 6km of cross-headwind.  Weather like that puts 36km of less disadvantage to those in the break (if that makes sense) followed by a very tough final 6km, with advantage to the peloton.  That alone means tonight will see unpredictable racing, and undoubtedly Cadel will look to – at the very least – put the pressure on Wiggo, and at best pinch a bit of time.

This is a stage made for a successful break, but the way that BMC are racing at the moment, who knows what will happen.  Undoubtedly a couple of blokes will get up the road, but the chances of them staying there are less than would normally be the case thanks to the aggression of the Evans-led team.  But who knows??  The beauty of sport is encapsulated in those three words I reckon!

Gerrans from Pineau (not Pinot) from Scarponi

So if you looked at the result of last night and saw Greipel from Sagan from Boassen Hagen, you’d likely think “Aaah just another bunchie” – it was certainly the finale that I was expecting!  And was far from the finale that actually happened.

BMC took advantage of the stiff crosswinds and tough little wall 25km from the finish to send Cadel shooting off the front of the bunch.  Clearly they are still sniffing around to do some damage and hopefully get Cadel back into the race!  The result was no change for Evans, although he did blow the peloton to smithereens and made Sky work a lot harder than they otherwise would have

Atop  the climb there were only twenty or thirty riders still in contention, and when Alexandre Vinokourov attacked with Michael Albasini, the pressure was kept high, making it very difficult for any riders who were attempting to bridge up to the front bunch from closing the gap.  One group who did were the boys from Lotto Belisol, with the big fella (Greipel) in tow.

It then became a drag race between two very strong lads in front, and the Lotto train behind.  While the inevitable happened and they were caught a couple of km from the finish, the damage had been done, and the race was between the few who remained. Greipelh ad used all of his soldiers in shutting down the break, so had no train, and no one else was interested in delivering the few fast men there to the line.

And then the unheard of happened.

The Yellow Jersey lead out the sprint.  There are always anomalous times when the bloke who happens to be in yellow isn’t the leader of the team, so does some work for whoever it is that is the boss: Hushovd helping out Farrar last year for Garmin is an example, as is  Victor Pena riding for Lance back in 2003.  Neither man was any chance of winning the race at the end of the Tour.  That the Yellow Jersey rode for Boassen Hagen yesterday speaks volumes for the respect Wiggo has for him, and had he have set the Norwegian up for the win, would have paid back a lot of the work done throughout the race.

Greipel eventually won out over Sagan, with the latter consolodating his lead in the Green Jersey as Gossy didn’t get over the climb in touch with the lead bunch.  What a cracking finale to a stage that many would have penned in as a “boring” bunch sprint.

We’ve had a full week since the mad dog sprinters have had a chance to shine, and I would be astonished if we had to wait another day to see them

Sagan singing an opera at Gossy (thanks to Bettini photos)

all go head to head for the win. That is not to say that the sprinters have kept quiet: we’ve had Gossy be relegated for deviating from his line against Sagan (tough 50:50 decision); Sagan dragging Nibali up the road in an attack on the Sky Supertrain (bike racing brilliance); Ty Farrar suffering from multiple wounds and hopefully recovering enough to bop a win (hardman); and Cav keeping his mouth shut. Weird.

A break will skip away, Sky will let them clear on out of Dodge, then Lotto and GreenEdge will control the peloton to bring things back together for another crack at line honours.

Gossy will be that fired up after pumping Sagan twice in a day, yet losing points in the race for the Green that I reckon he’s the man for the win today. Second to be Greipel, third Cav.

I was reading the GreenEdge site this morning and saw that Whitey made mention of Australian fans abusing Richie Porte & Mick Rogers for the “sin” of riding “against” Cadel.  These people are idiots.  If Australian football was ever blessed with two players who were talented enough to be starters for Chelsea and Manchester United, would one be considered un-Australian (whatever that means) because he was playing against the other??

Lance & some intense fans

One of the many beauties of bike racing is that the fans can be so close the action as to see the superstars of the sport passing within metres of them.  This is also one of the great risks.  In the past the peloton has been shot at with a pellet gun (resulting in the most bizarre injury to any athlete in my care – Jules Dean ended up with a fingertip infection from being shot by a BB gun while riding the Tour de France); and Lance Armstrong was famously spat at during THAT Alpe D’Huez time trial back in 2004.

I would have hoped that Australian fans, with sport being such an integral part of the society in which they grew up, would have understood how sport works and been better than that.  Clearly not.

Mick Rogers and Richie Porte are riding FOR their team.  In the same way that a club level Rugby League player is not a traitor when they play FOR their state if they are lucky enough to play State Of Origin footy.  To any Aussie fans out there thinking Dodger and Richie are anything other than brilliantly performing athletes flying the flag for Australian cycling, wake up to yourselves.

Rant over.