2012 Tour de France - One Week Down, Two Remaining
Now things are starting to get interesting. Roadcycling.com's 2012 Tour de France analysis continues.
Finally the peloton had reached the mountains in the Tour de France. Okay, not exactly the mountains like we'll see them in the third week, but stage 7 was finally going to shake up the general classification?
I use a question mark at the end of that last sentence because the yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara could still haul his carcass up the last climb, La Planche Des Belles Filles, and keep his jersey. This climb is the first category 1 ranked mountain of the Tour. Fabs is a big guy, capable of churning out the watts to win a time trial, like he did a week ago in the Liege prologue. He's not known as a climber. However, in 2009 he did win the Tour de Suisse - not exactly a flat race.
What also motivated Cancellara was that Sunday the Tour slipped into Switzerland, his home country. If you can ride into your homeland with the yellow leader's jersey of the Tour de France on your back, you will never, ever, have to by your own drinks at the pub again.
The after effects of stage 6's blood bath was still lingering at the start of stage 7. Team Garmin-Sharp had taken a pounding. They lost Tommy Danielson who had finished 8th in last year's Tour, their sprinter Robert Hunter and recent Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal. Garmin-Sharp went from contenders to pretenders in the span of a few hours.
The gold star Tour de France favorites of Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans got brighter with Hesjedal's abandonment, but people were forgetting about a rider lurking in 5th on the G.C. - Denis Menchov. The Russian won the Vuelta a Espana in 2005 and 2007. He's had a good result in the Tour as well winning the young riders' classification in 2003. Menchov could be the spoiler of this year's Tour if his luck holds.
As expected the excitement of the day was reserved for the category 1 climb. Garmin-Sharp led the peloton in chasing the six escapees. Timing it to perfection the break was caught at the foot of the climb. By this time Team Sky had taken over. It was GO time.
It was reminiscent of a lead out for a sprint finish. Team Sky strung out the field and one by one riders were popped. Under the red kite it was just Bradley Wiggins, his teammate Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Cadel Evans.
Australian Evans attacked, but Froome covered it, passed him and carried on to win the stage. Wiggins finished behind and took the yellow jersey of leadership.
While Wiggo got the glory of the yellow, the rider that impressed was Froome. Arguably he could have won last year's Vuelta a Espana if he'd had more support. And in the last kilometers of stage 7 he leads the charge, covers Evans' move and then counter attacks to take the stage. If Froome wants to reach his potential as a grand tour leader he needs to step out of Wiggins shadow. As long as Froome is with Sky, Wiggins will always be their leader.
Stage 8 saw a gutsy solo win by FDJ-Big Mat's Thibaut Pinot. With 17 kilometers left of the stage the Frenchman passed the on the road leader Frederik Kessiakoff (Astana) and kept on rolling to the finish.
The peloton chased, but with three kilometers to the finish in Porrentruy it was apparent that the victory would be Pinot's. His team director was in the back seat of the team car yelling at him at the top of his lungs. He looked like a dog with its head out a car window barking at everything on the street.
It was a well-deserved victory for Pinot, but the excitement turned up another notch at the post-stage press conference.
Team Sky has put in some dominating performances leaving some journalists comparing them to the US Postal Service and I think we all know what that means ...
At the obligatory post-stage press conference Wiggins was asked about that comparison - he did not take that question lightly. He blasted anonymous Twitter accounts which he said, "sit under a pseudonym on Twitter rather than get off their arses in their own life and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something, and that's ultimately it. C%#@s!"
Of course this set Twitter alight. First people were shocked at the use of the C-Bomb. In the States that word is one that rates high on the never, ever say list. To utter that in a press conference was quite the shocker. The public was looking for Wiggins to say something a little more eloquent or at least with less curse words to refute any allegations of team doping.
Let's remember Wiggins has been racing for eight days and has been under a microscope before the Tour de France started. Yeah, he could have chosen some of his words better, but I challenge anyone to say something in a more reserved tone when asked a question that was clearly designed to hit a nerve. But Wiggins didn't do himself any favors by supporting Lance Armstrong, someone who is under investigation by USADA. It seems to go against his transparency motto.
Another topic where Wiggins hit a nerve was in his reference to anonymous Twitter accounts. There are several anonymous accounts out in the Twittersphere. To be honest I was very dubious of some these. By not using their real name they have no accountability - a major problem for journalists. They could spread any half-baked rumor they wanted and it could grab hold as "truth" to some people.
However, anonymous sources have been an important part of breaking stories - Deep Throat anyone? I have gotten to know some anonymous accounts and respect what they do, and there are others that I don't consider a source for anything more than a laugh. Wiggins needs to realize that and get a thicker skin. And a little more media training. He knows the very recent history of professional cycling and he can't lash out like a cornered animal at any suggestion of doping.
And to people out there looking for legitimate news from Twitter - know your source. People who make a career from journalism use their name or an identifying moniker. Yes like I said earlier, you can get legitimate news from a Twitter account that is written by persons unknown, but again, know your source. This additional caveat applies to both known and unknown Twitter accounts: both can have an agenda - pro or con for a certain rider or rule or whatever. If you follow me on Twitter (@neilroad) know that in between cycling tweets I mention my cats. That's just how I roll.
Okay, back to the big bike race in France.
This was the first real test of the 2012 Tour de France - stage 9's individual time trial. Crushing his rivals was Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins - not really that much of a surprise. Or was it?
Fabian Cancellara was the first true contender for the stage to roll down the ramp and he smashed Tony Martin's time by over a minute. This put the Swiss time trial champ in the hot seat. However, there still were Evans and Wiggins to roll off the ramp. Before the two favorites hit the road Team BMC's American Tejay van Garderen was rolling fast and actually surpassed Fabs' time at the first check point. Hands grabbing the aerobars, Van Garderen was the picture of speed. However in the final section of the course van Garderen slowed ever so slightly and crossed the line just nine seconds slower than Cancellara. Regardless, it was impressive.
Chris Froome was next. He was fastest through all the check points and when he stopped the clock at the finish line he bested Cancellara's time by 22 seconds!
Evans was down the ramp, but it quickly became evident that it wasn't his day. The Australian was off the back through all the time checks. In contrast Wiggo was slashing through the time checks like a serial killer.
Evans stopped the clock with the sixth fastest time and was almost two minutes slower than Wiggins. Ouch!
Before we start saying that the Tour is over there is still plenty of racing remaining. Sure, BMC will have to return to the drawing board with the goal of trying to put Sky on the ropes. That means attacking throughout the mountains. BMC's van Garderen will have to glue himself to Evans' wheel on the slopes and assist.
During the post-stage media scrum team director John Lelangue said that the team would look for cooperation with other teams - that's an invitation to Liquigas-Cannondale to join the party. If Nibali wants a shot at the podium he needs to be aggressive not only on the climbs, but descends as well. Froome is not one for the downhills and that might be a crack in the Sky rider's armor.
Tomorrow is a rest day. The riders will conduct press conferences and suit up for an easy spin to keep the legs moving. While those who still consider themselves contenders draw up new battle plans. I wonder what Sky's plan is? Just watch wheels and ride defensively? Go on the attack at the first sign of weakness?
Looking at how Sky is riding as a whole, and if I'm given some latitude to make projections, Sky will continue to ride the wheels off of the competition. I can see several stages being played out with the black and blue Sky kit on the climbs shredding the field until it's just Wiggins and Froome for the finish. Evans will hang tough, but at this point Sky has shown they are the superior team in this year's Tour.
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