Category Archives: Tour 2015

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 11

5. #voecklersexface watch
I hope everyone enjoyed the sight of Thomas Voeckler’s sex face gurning away in the day’s break? Some solid TV time for the Europcar publicity man, even if the cameras seemed to spend more time on Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil, visibly suffering to hang with the leaders after crashing yesterday.

Barguil did at least manage to avoid hitting a cow while descending the Col d’Aspin.

Not a lot of joy for French fans the last couple of days. Pre-race favourites Pinot, Bardet, Peraud are all way off the pace, the latter two finished with the sprinters today.

4. What is happening with Vincenzo Nibali?
Yesterday I said The Shark had been turned into fish and chips. That hasn’t changed: the defending champion looks an ashen shadow of himself.
Is he sick, or just failed to peak in time? Has he run out of fucks to give?
Today he was with the GC group until the final kilometre of the final climb, but was easily dropped as soon as Bauke Mollema’s attack lifted the pace. This is not the Shark we know and love.

3. Classic Porte
It’s a cliché that on his day, Richie Porte is one of the best and most destructive climbers in the world, but the day after…
Porte spent a lot of time and energy on the front working today. He was outstanding in a team role. Loyal to the last.
He’s here as a domestique for Froomey and he’s not playing for GC, but is it a problem for his personal ambitions to be so selfless, if it costs him time and reinforces certain perceptions? Could he be more like Valverde, who is clearly riding in support of Nairo Quintana but is still making sure he finishes in the lead group?
If you want to be a GC leader, a reputation for being up and down like Ron Jeremy’s trousers is not all that helpful.
Presumably he’s confident that his new team bosses will understand.

2. Dan Martin’s attack on the maillot demoiselle d’honneur intensifies
Dan Martin is an excellent racer. He’s highly versatile. He can surge up punchy climbs or grind up long ones, far better than most. His long-range solo chase of Rafal Majka today would have been epic, if he’d caught the Pole and won.
He didn’t, and he scored his second second place of the Tour.
By my reckoning that places Martin just behind Peter Sagan in the bridesmaid’s jersey competition, ahead of Greg van Avermaet.

1. Rafal Majka still a great plan B
Tinkoff-Saxo’s Polish climber was one of the saviours (along with Mick Rogers) of the team in 2014, winning two stages after Alberto Contador crashed out.
This year, Contador is still in the race but Majka has already been sent up the road to win a stage.
Does it signal that Contador, who looked about a decade older than usual in pre-stage interviews, no longer believes he can win the Tour?
It was a quality ride from Majka, attacking from a break (with some very good riders in it) on the Col du Tourmalet and riding solo to the finish. He’s still young and I reckon he’ll be a Grand Tour winner some day.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 10

Wowoweewaaah.

5. Nibali: cooked

Stick a fork in him, he’s done. Fish and chips.

4: Contador: cooked

He’s more legs of mutton than legs of a Tour winner. Eaten for dinner (slow-roasted with Italian seasoning).

3. Tejay: cooked.

First really hard day and he’s already been steamed up. Maybe they’re not legs, they’re hot dogs.

2. Nairo: prepare the tablecloth

He’s not done yet, but the waiters are getting the table ready.

1. Froome: answers critics by doing thing that encourages critics.

Sky train right on schedule.

“Now we’re cooking with gas!”

Mega Daily Bone-up: Rest Day Edition

It’s all action, off the bikes. The race will return on Bastille Day with some big news to discuss. Grab a croissant and settle in.

5. Andre Greipel gets in some sprinter training.

First, some light entertainment.

4. Paolini crosses a (white) line

Or perhaps he railed one. Luca Paolini, my favourite bearded rider, is out of the Tour after testing positive for cocaine.

If he did it, it would have to be one of the stupidest examples of self-sabotage in recorded cycling history. Yes, cocaine is a stimulant, but it’s more obviously useful as powdered wanker-fuel in boring nightclub conversations between overpaid middle-class types discussing house music than in actual, you know, sport.

If his B sample is also off its face, it’s a probable career-ender for the ageing Italian party monster. A two-year ban would push him over 40.

3. Porte announces his Skexit

Richie has put an end to the speculation about whether he’ll be riding for Team Death Star next year by announcing his imminent (OK, end-of-season) departure to greener pastures.

Richie wants more opportunities to be a team leader, particularly at Le Tour, as he enters the prime of his career. Fair enough.

He hasn’t said which colours he’ll be wearing next year. Speculation is on BMC or OGE. Whether he’d get Tour leadership at BMC ahead of Tejay van is an open question, but there’s no doubt BMC is building a very good programme under Allan Peiper, so I can see why Richie would want to be involved.

A move to OGE would at least give him clear leadership, with the likes of the Brothers Yates, Esteban Chavez and the OGE TTT Experience providing support. But does OGE have the budget for Porte? Probably not, unless the team can dig up a second naming-rights sponsor that isn’t Gerry Ryan.

2. Basso departs

Ivan Basso has left the Tour after a mid-race diagnosis of testicular cancer. Apparently his prognosis is good, and I wish him all the best for a swift recovery.

Basso is a rider with a past, for sure. At his peak he was an exciting climber, despite being relatively big at 182cm and 70kg. He was banned for two years for ‘attempted’ blood doping as part of Operacion Puerto (he denies actually blood doping, but admits he asked Dr Fuentes for advice on how to do it) and there will always be an asterisk next to his 2006 Giro win, and his Tour de France podiums in the Armstrong era.

He returned to win the 2010 Giro, perhaps his only major result we could consider ‘possibly clean’. Time out for treatment will probably end the 37 year-old Italian’s career. Not the ideal way to retire.

Good luck to him in his treatment.

1. Froome’s zombie Ventoux data

A really high-grade scandal has erupted over the leaking/hacking (depends who you ask) of Chris Froome’s alleged power data files, especially the Mont Ventoux stage of the 2013 Tour, during which Froome utterly wrecked his rivals with a series of high-cadence surges.

Analysis of the file allegedly shows that the real average numbers are extremely close to the estimates previously circulated, which used methodologies developed by ‘The evil’ Dr Ferrari (the mental capacity vacated by an absolute lack of moral scruples seems to have been colonised by an evil genius for exercise physiology). The numbers are, well, exhilarating.

On first blush, this vindicates the ‘Twitter experts’ that Sky had previously been so dismissive of.

It’s already reignited the debate about whether Froome’s performance was plausibly seulement de pain. I’ll leave that to the physiologists and coaches. What is interesting is that Sky management hasn’t really denied the power data is genuine. Rather, they’ve said it was stolen by ‘hacking’ and that interpreting it is just speculation and that Froome has big lungs.

Perhaps, but getting the lawyers involved and taking down YouTube videos overlaying the data on video of the stage? Bit of a PR own goal when you’re spinning a line about transparency.

Expect these scurrilous rumours and tales of skullduggery to keep rumbling as we enter the mountains. In the meantime, read this post from Ross Tucker.

UPDATE: Video is back up on DailyMotion:

Tonight’s preview

Expect every Frenchman worth his beret to attack. It’s mostly flattish, until the final 23km when the race hits the first HC climb of the Tour, a summit finish to boot.

Expect Pierre Rolland, Thomas Voeckler, Romain Bardet or one of the other French climbers to have a major crack at getting into the breakaway and trying to hang on for a glorious Bastille Day victory.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 9

I slept through this one, but I’ll tell you what it all means.

5. Orica-GreenEdge phoned it in

This is the team that has a fearsome reputation in TTTs, often using them as a springboard to dominate the first week of a grand tour. This is also the team that has three of its strongest riders at home nursing broken bones, and another (Michael Matthews) still riding on with broken ribs.

OGE hobbled across the course, trying to stay together, and the blank looks in their eyes as they rolled across the finish line told the story.

The postscript to the story is that they finished last, two and a half minutes behind second-last placed Cofidis and a shade under five minutes slower than BMC, who they frequently beat. This was an exercise in survival until the rest day for the OGE bus. This Tour business is pretty tough sometimes.

Here’s a bit of music to lighten the team’s spirits, anyway.

4. Nobody has ruined their Tour

I said it yesterday and I’ll stand by it: nobody important had their Tour ruined by the TTT.

Joaquim Rodriguez lost 1’53” and might disagree, but like I said, nobody important. Purito has won a stage already, and he might even be a better chance for another one if he drops a few more minutes on GC and is allowed a bit more freedom while the Big Boys mark each other.

Meanwhile, the Big Four (perhaps we should add BMC and Tejay to the ‘Big’ list)…

The Big Five were all within 35 seconds of each other.

KPI box ticked.

A few of the second-tier contenders have drifted backwards, it is true. The cream is rising to the top.

3. Movistar solid, but was it enough for Nairo?

Movistar would have had high expectations for this TTT, having brought former Hour record holder Alex Dowsett, and the big engines of TT specialists Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo along for the ride.

The aim would have been to do some damage to Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, and set Nairo Quintana up for the mountains.

It didn’t really work out, but only because Sky in particular rode a blinder. As a result, Quintana will start the second week 1’59” behind the maillot jaune. This is certainly not ideal, but Nairo is known for getting better in the final week of Grand Tours (see Tour 2013, Giro 2014).

We’ll see.

2. Sky on fire

Yes, Sky has always been strong in this discipline. Yes, they would have been highly motivated. Yes, they’ve had a couple of relatively easy days letting the sprinters’ teams control the race.

But still, getting within a second of the World Champion BMC squad was a massive effort, considering Sky arguably didn’t bring its A team of time triallists (they opted for more climbers).

It keeps Froome in yellow over the rest day, and perhaps more importantly it edged him a little further ahead of Quintana, Contador and Nibali.

So far everything is going to plan for Team Death Star, and Froome’s key mountain lieutenants have barely had to turn a crank in anger.

1. “Cos I’m BMC, I’m dynamite…”

With apologies to Acadaca, I’ll be earworming this one all day. Another big ride from the Swissmerican squad gives them two vans on the provisional podium (Tejay van Garderen and Greg van Bridesmaid) and a second stage win for this Tour.

This one will do wonders for their confidence. With a leader who looks in the form of his life and a team obviously in good nick, they’ll be starting to truly believe.

Not just in a “Yeah we’re all in for Tejay go team” sense, but in a visceral “Fuck, we can actually win this, I’m going to to turn myself inside out for this bloke for the next two weeks…” sense. That is powerful.

Big Boys’ GC

1. Froome

2. Tejay van 12″

3. Contador 1’03”

4. Uran 1’18”

5. Valverde 1’50”

6. Quintana 1’59”

7. Kreuiziger 2’18”

8. Nibali 2’22”

9. Barguil 2’43”

10. Rodriguez 3’52”

11. Talansky 4’17”

12. Bardet 4’38”

Mega daily Bone-Up: Stage 8

5. Another scenic day
Again, the old formula of letting a small group up the road far enough that everyone can relax and enjoy the ambience of Brittany, but not far enough that there’s any chance of them actually staying away and ruining the plans of the big teams.

Bartos Huzarski (Bora-Argon18), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) and Pierre-Luc Perichon from local team Bretagne-Seche Environnement had their day in the sunshine. Lotto-Soudal did a big job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink) controlling things on behalf of Tony Gallopin, the break was caught too early and another break went, but it wasn’t given much rope and it was all back together with 15km to go.

4. Cannondale-Garmin flex 
The green argyle crew with the funniest hats in the peloton flexed their legs in the latter chase, hoping for a good day for Dan Martin on the steep finish up the Mur de Bretagne (the ‘other Mur’). The team hasn’t had a great year so far, but a Tour stage would certainly help.

Martin was certainly good, finishing second and riding well clear of the fairly elite selection of riders in the last 500 metres. Unfortunately he left it a fraction too late, and was upstaged by…

3. Vill…Vuillerm… Who?
Not many tipsters would have picked the stage winner Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R). The 27-year-old French former mountain biker (#drink) launched powerfully 700m from the finish and grabbed the win while his more fancied rivals waited to see who would chase him.

It was a canny piece of opportunism, and perhaps he deserved a bit more respect after finishing 3rd on the Mur de Huy (the ‘real Mur’) earlier this week. Still, it’s his first big win on the World Tour.

Vuillermoz is the first Frenchman to win a stage of this year’s Tour, and he even managed to do it before Bastille Day.

2. The shark flounders
Vincenzo Nibali, the Shark of the Strait, looked more like a gummy shark as he was dropped in the finish.
He only lost a handful of seconds, but is the defending champion going to flake? Was the battering he took on stage 6 more damaging than he’s letting on, or is his form just not where it was last year? Can he handle the heat once the race hits the mountains, or is he fried?

Stage 9 is a team time trial, so we won’t have another opportunity to find out until after the rest day.

In the meantime, Chris Froome and Tejay van Garderen are both looking strong, Contador and Quintana have hidden effectively, Andrew Talansky appears to be struggling, and Thibaut Pinot has finally had two consecutive days without a crash.

1. Sagan pips van Avermaet in Bridesmaid jersey competition

Peter Sagan picked up 4th on the stage, edging further clear of his great rival Greg van Avermaet (6th) in the competition to rack up the most near-victories without actually winning anything. I think he’s got this category stitched up, given that van Avermaet’s objectives are about to switch to fully supporting Tejay vG in the GC battle.

Big Boys’ GC:

The team time trial up tonight might stir things gently, but at 17km short it’s not going to ruin anyone’s Tour (unless they crash).

1. Froome

2. van Garderen @ 13″

3. Uran @ 34″

4. Contador @ 36″

5. Barguil 1’07”

6. Mollema 1’32”

7. Valverde 1’47”

8. Nibali 1’48”

9. Kreuziger 1’51”

10. Quintana 1’56”

11. Rodriguez 2’00

12. Talansky 2’49”

13. Bardet 3’15”

etc. Pinot 6’33”

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 7

5. Nibali versus Froome: FIGHT!

This is really news from yesterday, but apparently Vincenzo Nibali thought Chris Froome was responsible for causing the crash that brought him down near the finish yesterday, and piffed a bidon at him. It was all a big misunderstanding, of course, and the two later hugged it out by the team buses, but it does make you think.

For me, that thought was “Nibali would beat the shit out of Froome in a fist fight”.

Although it might look like this:

Nacer Bouhanni would be disgusted.

4. Another day of chateaux and chapels

Beautiful, but uneventful. Normandy and Bretagne. Such charming. Chalk up another win for the French Tourism Board.

3. No yellow jersey

What with Tony Martin snapping his collarbone like a twig yesterday and going home to have it bolted back together, there was no yellow jersey in the race today. Everyone knew it was Chris Froome, though. Luckily it was a day for the sprinters so Froome was able to whistle along pretending the race lead had nothing to do with him.

2. Who’s in charge?

Etixx-Quickstep and Lotto-Soudal have both lost key riders from their leadouts (Tony Martin and Greg Henderson respectively) and both teams looked a little rattled in the run into the finish. Lotto-Soudal had done a job of work (#sherliggettisms #drink) all afternoon, and eventually Giant-Alpecin came to the front for John Degenkolb’s moustache.

Another slightly dodgy leadout from Etixx-Quickstep, but it didn’t matter in the end, because…

1. Cav’s in charge!

Finally the Manx Missile managed to grab his first stage win of this Tour, with a cunning sprint up the inside to come past Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan (another podium for Oleg to savour) and John Degenkolb.

Cav lost Mark Renshaw’s wheel again, but found Alexander Kristoff’s enormous slipstream instead. When Greipel opened his sprint, Cav jumped across onto his wheel, timed his sprint late and ducked underneath to take it on the line.

Another win for Etixx-Quickstep. Cav’s 26th career Tour stage win inches him closer to second-place on the all-time list (Bernard Hinault has 28).

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 6

Here’s the things that happened today.

5. Snooze-fest on the French coast

If you were going to explain to someone how the Tour de France can sometimes get a bit formulaic in the first week, this would be an ideal stage to do it.

A small breakaway containing little-known riders from small teams went up the road on a stage with no salient features.

The peloton rolled along a very nice coastline, enjoying the sunshine, allowed the break to dangle 5 minutes in front and then gradually started reeling them in as the finish approached. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The break was caught within the last 10km. It was all set for the bunch sprint.

4. TV Time Tommy

Thomas Voeckler a.k.a ‘TV Time Tommy’ a.k.a. ‘Little Tommy Voeckler’ a.k.a. the alleged housewives’ favourite of France, made his first significant TV appearance, with a cheeky attempt to bridge across to the leaders with 44km to go in the stage.

Unfortunately for fans of Voeckler’s famous #voecklersexface, the Tour’s most effective gurner couldn’t get anything to stick and he was soon nestling back into the warm bosom of the peloton. Expect that to be the first of many sashays up the road for the Europcar man, who might be looking for a new team next year if his current one can’t find a new sponsor.

3. Teklehaimanot takes polka dots

Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), the lanky Eritrean who spent a couple of years on Orica-GreenEdge’s squad, is having a great season and – courtesy of getting into today’s break and claiming all of the small KOM prizes along the route – he’s now wearing the polka dot jersey as King of the Mountains.

He’s the first African rider to wear the jersey.

It’s a big deal for the photogenic 26 year old, and for his team (which is the first African team to ride in Le Tour). Hopefully it inspires lots of young Africans to jump on a bike, perhaps with help from his sponsor Qhubeka (a charity which provides bikes to people in Africa). I’m still of the view that if the Eritreans, Kenyans and Ethiopians ever get into cycling, it will change the sport forever.

Teklehaimanot is becoming a bit of a polka dot specialist, having won the jersey in the Dauphine a few weeks ago. He will need to pay attention early tomorrow and try to nab the KOM points again, and get a small buffer on his lead in that competition.

2. Tony, NOOO!!!

I swear this year’s yellow jersey is a curse. Tony Martin was the first rider so far to wear it for more than one day, and this clearly angered the cycling gods.

Tony was caught up in another bloody crash and broke his collarbone.

Anyone else getting sick of seeing so many top riders heading home with fractures?

This one looked suspiciously like Tony’s fault, trying to barge his way through a gap that wasn’t there, taking down Vincenzo Nibali and several others.

Excuse me while I watch replays of Tony’s Stage 4 heroics and sigh about what might have been. After Fabian Cancellara, Martin is the second yellow jersey to crash out of the race this week.

1. Etixx-Quickstep gains instant redemption, but has anyone told Peter Sagan he’s trying to come FIRST?

Another second place for Peter Sagan (he’s had 3 seconds and a third this week). I like to imagine his team boss Oleg Tinkov watching these podium presentations silently through gritted teeth, a vein in his forehead pulsing 160 times per minute.

A different rider to win, at least, and some joy for Etixx-Quickstep on a bittersweet day for the team, a victory to balance Tony Martin’s crash.

Zdenek Stybar (former cyclocross world champion – #drink) better known as a hard bastard who specialises in the cobbled classics, surprised the field with a full-gas attack on the uphill section with just under a kilometre to go. Nobody could (or would) follow, and he powered across the finish line with a small lead over the bunch.

Stybar’s known for riding hard. At the Tour of Flanders this year he managed to literally shake his false teeth loose over the cobbles, and he’s been extremely close to winning some big road races without quite breaking through (his win at Strade Bianche this year was outstanding).

It’s his first Tour stage win, and another one in the bank for his Etixx-Quickstep superteam, which needed something to smile about after losing its race leader only a minute before.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 5

5. Crosswinds, echelons… PELOTON SHREDDED.

A flat stage, but another potential banana peel for the GC contenders, as the race crossed the WWI battlefields of the Somme. Strong crosswinds were always expected, but it was a day of miserable wet weather as well, making for slippery conditions.

If you’ve ever ridden in a strong crosswind you’ll know how bloody horrible it is, and the inevitable splits in the peloton did indeed occur. Crosswinds are one occasion where riding in a group doesn’t offer much protection. Allowing the slightest gap to the rider in front of you can lead very quickly to being blown off the wheel, and it’s extremely difficult to ride back on.

So it happened, and a large group of riders were left to grovel home over 8 minutes behind the leaders.

No major damage to key riders’ ambitions. Poor old Thibaut Pinot, who is fast becoming the pantomime patsy of this Tour, struggled and crashed again but didn’t lose any more time at the finish.

4. A truce on the Somme

The big teams clearly decided that it wasn’t worth it to rip each other apart in the wind, and each put half a dozen riders on the front in a block formation, keeping the speed comfortably low. Etixx-Quickstep, Astana, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky and Movistar all in agreement – you won’t see that too often.

The race didn’t really light up again until the final 10km, when the sprinters started to salivate over possible a stage win.

3. ANZAC memorials

The race passed the Australian and New Zealand war memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, and the Orica-GreenEdge team marked the occasion with black armbands. An appropriate commemoration of the centenary of a famously awful conflict.

2. More crashes, more withdrawals

A couple of decent stacks today on the wet roads and strong winds.

The big names to withdraw today were Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, with a broken wrist, Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini (who finished the stage with a broken arm) and Cannondale-Garmin’s Kiwi Jack Bauer.

Michael Matthews is still in the race – struggling with his injuries, but still in the race. He won the combativity prize today for his guts and determination to stay in the race. I’m sure he’s repeating that phrase to himself constantly through gritted teeth, “Stay in the race, stay in the race, stay in the race…”

1. A proper bunch sprint

Finally a chance for Greipel, Cavendish, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Demare and Sagan to race head-to-head.

GREIPEL!

Etixx-Quickstep made another complete hash of the finish, with Cavendish losing Mark Renshaw’s wheel and being forced to freelance. If it wasn’t for Brad Haddin dropping Joe Root on 0 in the first Ashes Test, it would’ve definitely been the worst drop involving an Australian and a Brit of the day.

Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff went early, Cavendish followed and hit the front looking the goods, but he faded again in the final metres, and had the best seat in the house to watch Andre Greipel fly up the inside with a perfectly timed sprint to pinch the chocs again.

Peter Sagan was 2nd yet again, finishing extremely fast but leaving his sprint slightly too late. Another tactical error for the Slovak who is becoming more famous for pinching arses than stages.

Greipel is having a great Tour, with two stage wins and the green jersey. It’s a pleasing return to form for one of the nice guys of cycling.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 4 cobbles edition

What happened today?

5. No crashes

Amazing scenes today with no major crashes on the feared cobblestones, after yesterday’s carnage on seemingly innocuous roads. I suppose everyone was paying attention, and it was mostly dry and dusty. And they didn’t use the worst sectors from Paris-Roubaix.

4. Not enough cobbles for Nibbles

Vincenzo Nibali looked magnificent on the cobbles again, powering over every sector with skill and intent. Several times he managed to open small gaps to his rivals, only to see the pave sector finish before he could really put anyone away.  This gave Sky and TInkoff-Saxo a chance to regroup and no damage was done.

3. Froome better than expected

After last year’s debacle in the equivalent stage, a lot of people were expected Chris Froome to struggle on the stones. He didn’t miss a beat (Paul Sherwen even remembered to mention that Froome is a “former mountain biker” #sherliggettisms #drink) and with excellent support from his teammates (Geraint Thomas take a bow) he even managed to throw in an attack on the last sector.

It was a perfect result for Froome: hand over the pressure of the yellow jersey to a guy who’s no threat in the long run, without losing any time to the guys who really matter to him.

Contador and Quintana survived, but the small Colombian didn’t look far off cracking. Still, that’s enough for Nairo.

Not many changes to the Big Boys’ GC, other than Thibaut Pinot having a shocker.

2. Paris-Roubaix specialists get a shock

My tip for the stage, P-R winner John Degenkolb, won the sprint for second, ahead of Peter Sagan, Greg “The Bridesmaid” van Avermaet and Eddie “Thank god I’m off the Death Star” Boasson Hagen. All men you would usually expect to see in the top 10 of a Spring Classic. But they were upstaged by an inspired ride by the new maillot jaune…

1. TONY MARTIN

C’est magnifique! The German may sound like he’s named after an English plumber, but he’s a pretty special bike rider. Three world time trial championships and a reputation for generating more power than a hydroelectric power station show that. Tony needed a measly 1 second to take the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, but he was never likely to get it in a bunch sprint. So Tony attacked 3km from the finish and simply rode everyone off his wheel. You have to be incredibly strong to do that.

He’s a popular bloke, is Tony, and perhaps for once there’ll be smiles around the dinner table at camp Etixx-Quickstep.

Mega daily bone-up: Stage 3

Bone up after stage 3:

1. That crash.

Crashes are part and parcel of Le Tour, with nervous riders wrestling for position. But this was a doozy, with 60km remaining in the stage a high-speed stack on a section of straight road brought down half the peloton, including race leader Fabian Cancellara. It was a spectacular pile-up with cartwheeling limbs and jerseys ripped to shreds, and it was followed by a second big chute seconds later. The race had to be stopped and then neutralised for a few kilometres while riders were treated – a very unusual event – and some big names withdrew immediately. There will be some very sore bodies over the next few days, and it just shows that even in dry conditions and straight roads, disaster can strike at any time.

2. Simon Gerrans is out, again

It just is not Gerro’s year. He’s had more crashes than a broken laptop this season. He’s out of the Tour de France in the first week for the second year in a row, yet again a victim of bad luck. His understudy for the punchier stages, Michael Matthews, also went down in the crash and looked pretty grim, so it will be interesting to see how Orica-GreenEdge handles the situation over the next few days, given that South African Daryl Impey has also withdrawn.

3. Why was the race neutralised?

It’s highly unusual to see the race stopped and then held behind the chief commissaire’s car mid-stage, even after big crashes. So why did it happen today? Was it anything to do with the fact that Fabian Cancellara, patron of the peloton and wearer of the maillot jaune, was languishing back in the team cars looking miserable and sore, but Team Sky decided to jump on the front and put the hammer down? Attacking the race leader after a crash is extremely impolite, and perhaps it was a step too far for the men with the flags.

Cancellara is another rider who’s had a shocking season of bad luck, a big crash at E3 Harelbeke in March ruined his Spring Classics campaign, and just when his luck appeared to be turning good with the yellow jersey, another crash reminds him of the fragility of existence. He lost several minutes today, and looked miserable doing it. Fair enough: it later turned out that he had fractured some vertebrae and he’s out of the race.

4. Sky train is on schedule

Sky was happy to put riders on the front in the last 40km today, and Richie Porte even put in an appearance on the front, putting in some big turns on the lumpy sections leading to the finish. Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana were also present and watchful, but the big teams are already flexing their muscles and testing each other.

5. Froome takes yellow on the Mur

The Mur de Huy is one of the iconic finishing climbs of the Spring Classics, reliably giving Fleche Wallonne a thrilling climax. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez knows the climb as well as anyone, having won Fleche Wallonne in 2012 he is one of the best punchy climbers in the business, and he nailed it today – his second career Tour stage win.

The big news though was Chris Froome dropping his GC rivals to finish second, pick up 11 seconds to his rivals and a 6 second time bonus, and take over the race lead. The time gaps won’t be decisive in two weeks, but it shows his form is good. Can Sky defend the jersey for the rest of the race?

Tomorrow: Can Froome overcome this year’s seemingly accursed yellow jersey AND his nemesis stage on the cobbles?

Relative GC (big GC names only)

1. Chris Froome

2. Tejay van Garderen @ 13″

3. Rigo Uran @ 34″

4. Alberto Contador @ 36″

5. Bauke Mollema @ 1’32”

6. Vincenzo Nibali @ 1’38”

7. Robert Gesink @ 1’39”

8. Alejandro Valverde @ 1’51”

9. Nairo Quintana @ 1’56”

10. Dan Martin @ 2’06”

11. Andrew Talansky @ 2’39”

12. Leopold Konig @ 2’52”

13. Romain Bardet @ 2’54”

14. Thibaut Pinot @ 2’58”