Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 19

Gadzooks, what a stage! Attacks, bonks, controversy and the return of the former king.

5. Is the Sky falling?

The famously indomitable Gauls of the Asterix stories had only one fear: that the Sky would fall on their heads. Last night, Team Sky fell on their heads in France.

It was a short stage of only 138km, but it was on like Donkey Kong immediately on the Cat 1 Col de Chaussy, with no opportunities to warm up into it. Quite a lot of riders suffered.

The biggest loser was Geraint ‘Super G’ Thomas, who started the day sitting 4th overall, but was dropped on the Croix de Fer, losing 22 minutes and 11 places on GC.

Super G’s statement on Team Sky’s website simply said “I was just empty today. It was always going to happen and I was hoping it was going to come on Monday but it came today. I just didn’t have it, and as they say, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. I was a cheap nail today, terrible, but there you go. There’s only one mountain stage to go.

“It was such a tough start, and when you’ve got nothing in the legs there’s not a lot you can do.”

The deeper problem for Sky is that by the halfway point of the stage, with most of the day’s climbing still ahead of them, the only Sky rider able to stay with the leaders and support Chris Froome was Wout Poels.

Richie Porte, Thomas, Leopold Konig and Nicolas Roche were all nowhere to be seen.

Peter Kennaugh went home sick a few days ago. Has lurgy spread through the Team Sky squad?

With another massive stage tonight including another climb of Croix de Fer followed by arguably the most famous of all Tour climbs, Alpe d’Huez, they’ll need to lift again.

4. Nibali commits a sporting faux pas?

The defending champion appeared to deliberately attack the maillot jaune just at the moment Froome suffered a mechanical problem with stones stuck in his brake calipers.

The defending champion looked back at Froome as he attacked, which angered the probable 2015 winner:

“He did see what he was doing, I’m pretty sure he looked around, saw I was in trouble and attacked. In my opinion you don’t do that to the race leader, it’s not sportsmanlike. He had the whole climb to attack and he waited until I had a mechanical. You certainly wouldn’t find me attacking a race leader like that.”

Nibali was unimpressed, replying,

“When I looked back, it was to look at [his Astana teammate] Kangert. We did the race on the Col de la Croix de Fer and were planning to make a big attack,”

“Lots of things have happened to me too, but that’s cycling. When Contador crashed on the descent (to Pra-Loup) we didn’t know until three or four kilometres after. It happens a lot of times in races. I can remember when I crashed at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, at Montalcino. There was the incident when Andy Schleck was attacked by Contador at the Tour the other year. There are no rules….”

His next comment is more revealing of his real reasons for giving zero fucks what Chris Froome thinks of him:

“Froome, Valverde or Quintana always came after me when I moved, but I was down in eighth overall. Perhaps if Nibali rides well, it scares people”

Nibali clearly doesn’t feel like he owes Froome any breaks. To sum up his argument:

1. Correlation is not causation

2. Fuck you.

3. Nairo

The world has been waiting impatiently for some fireworks from Nairo Quintana, who needed to find nearly 3 minutes to take the lead of the race. Stealing that much time will take something daring, an epic long-range attack to really crack the leader and put him in the box.

It’s a tantalising prospect.

Nairo did eventually launch, but by waiting until the last 5km he could only gain 30 seconds – handy, but he needs another six of those and there’s only one more opportunity.

Should Nairo have gone earlier, with Froome isolated and not looking good? I think so.

Perhaps the anticipation of stage 20 tempered his ambition for today, but surely there’s no way he can gain 2:39 on one stage.

Even with Valverde providing support, there’s no reason for Froome to mark anyone except Quintana, unless things get really crazy.

I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the Colombian, even though he finally managed to reveal some cracks in the race leader’s armour.

2. Froome

Froome had a relatively bad day (even though he managed to take more time from Valverde and Contador).

He looked awful on the bike,

But he survived. Just. He virtually had to be carried off to the team bus as he crossed the line. He went really deep and with another very hard stage ahead, and a team that appears to be suffering badly from nearly three weeks in the lead, there is still the possibility that everything could be lost.

I still think he will win the Tour de France, but to my eyes there are a few riders looking stronger than Froome at this point, which might be a worry for the Team Sky brains trust overnight.

1. Nibali

Well, the defending champion has found some form, FINALLY. It’s as if the Tour came 10 days too early for the Italian, and he’s looking stronger as the race goes on.

This was a victory full of panache and guts. Yes, he was given some rope due to being far enough back that he wasn’t a threat to Froome or Quintana.

But he was a threat to Contador, whose Tour finally jumped the shark when lo Squalo jumped him and into 4th overall, with the podium in sight.

It was classic Nibali: aggressive, tough, pivoting off a rapid descent, then a sustained climb at tempo.

The emotion on his face at the finish showed what the victory meant after a very difficult Tour for the Italian.

He rides for a team that does his reputation no favours, but when he is on form he’s one of the most exciting racers in the world. Can he attack Valverde on stage 20 and salvage a podium finish from what looked like an impossible position a week ago?

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 18

I’ll be honest, I was drunk in a hotel room after a long day of doing my real job in front of clients. My recollection is not so sharp today, for some reason…

5. Col du Glandon
Well, for a few fleeting moments it seemed almost possible that the race might come alive on the Col du Glandon.
Alberto ‘Pistolero’ Contador was quick on the draw, attacking solo with nearly 50km to the finish.
Vincenzo ‘Lo Squalo’ Nibali also scented blood and tried to establish a break before the summit, the plan seemingly to extend the gap on the descent and then climb up the GC on the final hill.
It was exciting!
Then Sky did what Sky does, lifted the tempo, reeled everyone back in and that was that as far as the Big List was concerned.

4. Fuglsang and the deadly moto

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was cursing after the stage, because he was knocked off his bike by one of the camera motorbikes as it passed him on the Col du Glandon. He was in the lead group at the time, and still managed to finish 5th on the day, but geez…

It was all a bit reminiscent of the Shimano neutral service car decking Jesse Sergent at the Tour of Flanders, wasn’t it?

The moto driver from today’s incident has been booted off the race, as punishment.

3. Pierre Rolland!

Pierre Rolland emerged from the witness protection programme last night to claim second on the stage.

Usually at the Tour Rolland is in everything. This year, like the rest of his Europcar team, he’s barely been seen.

Would it be wrong to infer that the team’s departing sponsor has not been replaced, that the team is therefore facing imminent demise, and that this is affecting team morale?

2. Hip hop hooray, for Romain Bardet!
Well, the French whippet has done a good one.
He hasn’t had the Tour he wanted, but his AG2R squad will be chuffed with its second stage win.
After royally screwing up stage 14 (won by Steve Cummings as Bardet and Thibaut Pinot discussed things between themselves) Bardet wasn’t leaving this one to last-minute tactics, and decided that solo was the way to get it done.


Frankly, he deserved a win after being one of the more aggressive climbers of this Tour, and this was quite a stylish victory, his first in a Grand Tour.

That’ll be enough to crank up the expectation for next year, then.

1. The Lacets de Montvernier can stay

These lacets, they’re bloody stunning, aren’t they? It was a bit eerie what with spectators not being allowed along the narrow roads in that section, but it made for some compelling aerial footage. There’ll be millions of amateurs heading there next summer!

Check out Beardy’s Caravan for some amazing photos of the day.

Stage 19 should be a belter – epic climbs and tired legs – and I’m off to watch it with Blackburn CC. Enjoy.

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 17

After the rest day.

5. Tejay van Goner-en
Poor Tejay. It’s not every day someone sitting 3rd on GC abandons. Tejay was shelled early, and got in the car. It was later revealed he’s been suffering with a heavy cold and chills for a few days, and when he got back on the bike for Stage 17 he realised it was game over.

The other big name to abandon was Michal Kwiatkowski, “the man in the white World Champion’s jersey” (#sherliggettisms #drink) after announcing he’s leaving Etixx-Quickstep. Not that the two are related.

4. Pinot and Talansky foiled again
Pinot and Talansky came into this Tour with big expectations and it was no surprise to see them attacking on the Col d’Allos.
Perhaps the surprise was that both were so far down in GC they were allowed to be in a break 11 minutes in front of the yellow jersey.

Sadly, this year seems to have cast Pinot in a comedy role, and his old descending yips returned – after surging up the Col d’Allos in pursuit of Simon Geschke, Poor Old Pinot lost time on the descent, then crashed (locked up his rear wheel) and completely lost his nerve. A handful of riders passed him going downhill and he was left with too much to do on the Pra Loup ascent.

Talansky fared better, but his attempt to catch Geschke simply came too late. Still, second on the stage is better than the ‘Pitbull’ has been travelling.

3. The Porte Parachute

It was almost perfect: Richie Porte got in the break, and started to deliberately drift backwards in time to meet Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas on the way up. Porte parachuted in just as Nibali and Quintana were putting Froome under pressure on the Col d’Allos, and took control.

That’s tactics.

Unfortunately he was caught behind when Contador crashed, and was no further help to Froome (although it appears he helped drag Super G to the finish, so not all bad).

Of course, Movistar used the same tactic but had TWO riders in the break, giving Quintana and Valverde a brief but huge advantage over the lonesome Froome. Didn’t help much, though.

2. Geschke’s beard

It’s always (well, a couple of years) been a genuine contest between Simon Geschke and Luca Paolini for best beard in the pro peloton, but with Paolini serving time in Ibiza it’s pretty clear who’s taking home the maillot barbe.

It was a big ride today from Giant-Alpecin’s hirsute domestique, and the biggest win of his career. Not without some serious panache, too – a long solo attack, a breathless technical descent, and then a tough grind to the line to hold off the chasers.

Chapeau.

1. GC shake

With Tejay van out, and Alberto Contador crashing and losing time, there was space created near the top of the big list, but not even a tiny crack at the top.

Valverde is up to 3rd. Contador now looks cooked as far as podiums go, but he might be able to sting Super G for 4th. Nibali might get past Gesink but that’s about all. Quintana has thrown everything at Froome and still hasn’t cracked him.

Still, plenty of Alps to come.

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 16

When the sub-plot is better than the actual plot.

5. Adam Hansen
He crashed in the first week and dislocated his shoulder, famously declaring that the next two weeks would involve some serious pain, but “I eat pain for breakfast” (although in France, everyone eats pain for breakfast).

The bullet-proof Aussie hasn’t been as visible as usual, but he was back in the game today, attacking from the break. For a while it seemed that it might succeed, but he was caught.

Never mind, it shows that he’s feeling better, and we might see another attempt in the final few days.

4. Super G’s twisty descent

Geraint Thomas is the beating heart of Team Sky. He crashed badly on the descent into Gap, when Warren Barguil overcooked a hairpin and used Super G as a snooker player might, cannoning him into the corner pocket… which would have sent blood pressure surging in the team Jag.

Fortunately the hardest cyclist in Britain rode calmly to the finish and seemed relatively unharmed, but those moments of panic are a salient reminder that crazy things can happen quickly in bike racing.

What if Barguil had hit Froome?

3. Sky train sputtering?
Is Sky struggling? Peter Kennaugh is out of the race after falling ill, Richie Porte was dropped early today (is he also ill or was it a tactical move to save energy?) and Thomas’ crash may have significant ramifications after the rest day, if he does pull up sore after slamming into a telegraph pole on his way down a ravine (and who wouldn’t?).

Wout Poels was with Thomas at the finish, but was yoyo-ing on and off the elite group and didn’t look like he’s ready to smash everyone up Alpe d’Huez. Leopold König hasn’t look great either, backing up after a hard Giro.

Maybe just a hint of a wobble, then? Can any of the other teams take advantage, though? Does it matter, if Froome stays strong?

2. Nibbles has a chomp
Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t had a good Tour, but he does seem better this week than last.

Today he attacked near the final summit, took 13 seconds over the top, and extended his lead with his famous descending skills to finish 28″ ahead of the Big Boys.

It wasn’t significant in the GC battle, seeing as he’s still 7’49” behind Froome, but perhaps he’s not ready to fade away from this race just yet.

He could salvage something with a stage win in the Alps.

1. The Sagan show
Man, this ‘Sagan comes 2nd again’ sub-plot is so unrealistic.

Sagan, it has to be said, is riding like a monster. Today he was immense, shutting down attacks on the Col de Manse and hammering down the technical descent into Gap, in furious fruitless pursuit of Ruben Plaza, the one attacker he hadn’t marked.

He is so desperate for a win, you can see it twisting him. That’s why this is so compelling: Sagan is so strong, so ridiculously strong, yet can seemingly contrive a close defeat from almost any situation.

Who else could be there every day? He’s in the breaks, piling on the points in the maillot vert, fending for himself. He can smash much lighter riders over Cat 2 and 3 climbs, yet can hang with the big boys in the bunch sprints.

He would murder nearly every rider in the world, tête-à-tête, but he loses to so many different types of rider it’s comical.

The whole saga is so compelling. His running total in this Tour is:

5x 2nd
2x 3rd
3x 4th
1x 5th

That means Sagan has been in the top five in 11 out of 16 stages (including the TTT).

He only missed out in the Pyrenees, on the Stage 1 ITT (still a respectable 19th) and on the Mur de Huy.

To pile on the misery, he was in the top five on nine stages in last year’s Tour, also without a win.

It’s an amazing consistency, and yet…

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 15

Well, that escalated.

5. Bling is back

No win, but he was back mixing it up in the finish of a stage that never really suited him. Bling doesn’t love the bunch sprints, and he had to freelance it through a tricky run in. He was nearly put into the barriers by a pair of Cofidis riders and lost position, then had to brake into the final corner and slipped further back. That’s OK.

At least he’s feeling good enough to be involved in the race again.

4. Rohan’s shorts

BMC’s dual stage-winner Rohan ‘Drop Bear’ Dennis was wearing special black knicks because he has saddle sores and he needed more, or different, padding.

HOW MANY TIMES DID WE NEED TO HEAR ABOUT IT?

3. Sagan watch: yet another top five

He’s racking them up faster than Paolini at a discotheque.

I wonder if he’s considered not getting in the break every single day, and saving some energy for the sprint at the end. You know, the one that matters. He may not have.

2. Greipel wins again, is clearly the fastest sprinter in the race

That’s three to Greipel, one to Cavendish, and donuts for all the other big sprinters.

Seems pretty clear cut that he’s the fastest when it’s flat.

Cavendish is apparently sick, and was shelled out the back very early today. Will he make it through the Alps?

1. Froome goes the media

This is a story that’s arguably bigger than the actual race. Chris Froome has gone in hard at the media, blaming ‘certain sections’ (mostly the French) for deliberately stirring the pot and inciting people to do stupid things like punch Richie Porte or throw piss at Froome himself.

French ex-TV commentator Laurent Jalabert seems to have been singled out by the English press, for comments he made about Froome:

Let’s take a moment to talk about Jalabert, a sprinter from the mid-1990’s who somehow also managed to win the King of the Mountains jersey twice AND the Vuelta a Espana (where he won all three jerseys in 1995).

Jaja‘s urine from the notorious 1998 ‘Festina Tour’ tested positive for EPO (shock!) but he has never admitted to knowingly doping, despite defying his natural physiology to prosper as a climber in the EPO-soaked 1990’s. I distinctly remember watching those Tours and hearing Phil Liggett express his amazement (yes, I know!) that Jalabert was climbing so well.

The idea that Jalabert of all people could lecture anyone about doping is laughable.

But so is the idea that by voicing his own doubts about Froome he is responsible for the actions of idiots, or that it’s unreasonable to question dominant performances given the context of two decades of false denials and omerta.

I can understand Froome is annoyed, indignant even. It is completely unacceptable to abuse or assault riders. And some of the loudest media voices making veiled accusations are the exact people whose own cheating led the punters to doubt his integrity in the first place. The injustice of it all!

But let’s all take a few deep breaths and try to maintain some perspective. We remember how we got here, right? Doubt is part and parcel now.

Especially when the competition has been crushed by the first stage of the Pyrenees, leaving the media without anything much to talk about.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 14 (Late edition)

Yes, I’m late today. It’s a Sunday. I was enjoying life.

A stage of spectacular scenery and an intriguing finish.

5. Sagan watch

Peter Sagan really fucked up Stage 13. After the stage he admitted that he just miscalculated how close the finish line was, and ran out of time to come around Greg van Avermaet.

So yes, he was angry.

So angry, in fact, that he got into the break again and spent the day hunting points for the maillot vert (which takes precedence over the unofficial bridesmaid’s jersey I would have him wearing).

He couldn’t quite follow the accelerations up the last climb, but he still managed to catch the proverbial bouquet and finish 5th.

Another chance in Stage 15?

4. The Yates boy

Simon Yates, today. He got in the break, and looked super comfortable following wheels on the final (steep!) climb to Mende. When he closed down Romain Bardet I really thought he could win the stage.

He didn’t, but gee it was impressive for a 22 year old. He is going to win a stage pretty soon. The only question is whether Simon or his brother Adam will do it first and get family bragging rights forever.

3. French farce

Just when it looked like the two ‘it’ boys of French cycling, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, would fight it out for stage victory, it all went horribly wrong.

Both were tipped before the race as potential GC performers, and both have stuttered and lost time. In fact they’ve both been having a shocker.

Pinot had managed to reel in Bardet by the top of the final climb, and it looked for all the world like a two-man sprint, but neither wanted to lead the other out.

The cat and mouse games backfired spectacularly when Steve Cummings, a 34 year old journeyman Brit, came flying past the two dilly-dallying French enfants prodiges on the downhill run to the line.

They used to deport Brits to Australia for heists that brazen.

2. People are pissed off with Froome

Somebody apparently threw piss at Chris Froome.

Who the hell does that?

It didn’t seem to affect his performance: he extended his lead over everyone except Nairo Quintana (who moved past Tejay van into second position on GC).

1. MTN-Qhubeka gets its first Tour stage win

Steve Cummings won his first Tour stage, and the first for his MTN-Qhubeka squad. It came on Mandela Day, of all days, giving it extra meaning for the South African-registered team (as if it was needed).

Not only did it give everyone except the French a warm fuzzy feeling, it also completely vindicates ASO’s decision to grant the African Pro Continental  team a wildcard entry to the race (if Daniel Teklehaimanot’s brief stay in the polka-dot jersey wasn’t enough).

It was a smart winning move from Cummings, showing his experience and strength to make Pinot and Bardet look extremely silly.

Kumbaya that, boys.

Mega Daily Bone-up: Stage 13

Tradition dictates that this post be written upside down, to avoid bad luck.

1. Greg van Bridesmaid-no-more!

It was a metaphysical riddle, the proverbial ‘will a falling cat with vegemite toast on its back spin in space forever?’

The two men who’ve had more near-victories and agonising podiums than pasta dinners, in a two-up sprint for the win.

Could both of them lose?

Sagan had the perfect sit on Greg van Avermaet’s wheel, having closed him down on the final stretches of the small climb to Rodez. By rights, the Slovak should’ve been the faster, the favourite to win.

In reality, the Belgian – who was on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche and 5th at Amstel Gold in this season alone – had enough to hold on, somehow, for his first individual Tour stage win.

That’s him disqualified from the maillot demoiselle d’honneur, then. Sagan’s lead is extended.

2. Tinkov reacts.

Come on, this is pretty funny.

3. Haas shows his class

Nathan Haas, in his first tour, has bounced back after spending the first week of the race with, err, gastro-intestinal problems.

He was in the good break last night, and even gave it a bit of a fright with a late-ish solo attack. Perhaps not the best idea in hindsight, given that he was probably the quickest in the group and they almost got to the finish (he’d cooked himself and couldn’t follow).

Still, I love the guy’s attitude. He’s not one of those cardboard cut-out athletes with no personality or interests on display. And just look at those soulful emo eyes of his…

It took him a season or two to settle into the World Tour, but he looks like he belongs at this level now.

4. JC shows his arse

A nasty crash for JC Peraud, and it damn near ripped his brown shorts right off him.

I was watching the cricket at the time (it’s not every day an Australian batsman scores a double century at Lords, in fact it hasn’t happened since 1938) and I missed it.

Judging from all the kerfuffle on Twitter it was quite the illicit thrill for a few sickos in the TV audience. People, the man is hurt! Stop perving at his junk!

JC looked in quite a lot of pain as he rolled across the finish. Hope he’s OK.

5. GC stalemate

Move along, nothing to see here.

A blog about bikes and people who ride them.