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.

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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.

Mega Daily Bone-Up: Stage 12

5. Flower power
One of the things I really love to see in cycling is the World Champion’s jersey getting involved in the action. Michal Kwiatkowski is doing a better job of being seen, being involved, just making stuff happen than most of his recent predecessors in the rainbow stripes. He’s always buzzing around his teammates, riding in support despite his status, and he loves to throw down an aggressive attack himself. He is a real all-rounder and climbs surprisingly well for a guy with his build.

In stage 12 he was in the big break, then attacked with Sep Vanmarcke (who must’ve been wondering what the hell he was doing attacking on the side of a Pyrenean mountain instead of smashing over his preferred Flanders cobbles). Vanmarcke inevitably cracked, and ‘Flower Man’ Kwiatkowski spent a long time solo, trying to win on the Plateau de Beille.

Doomed, but awesome.

4. Rolling the dice
A mixed bunch in what was actually a pretty powerful break. Your usual opportunists (Chavanel, Coppel, Barta), your sadistic classics guys (Kwiatkowski, Vanmarcke) and a few decent climbers (Sicard, Navarro, Fuglsang, Meintjes).

Even some guys-who-were-talked-about-as-possible-contenders-but-have-lost-heaps-of-time-already in the break today (Rodriguez, Bardet).

The GC guys were happy to let them all have a go. Good on ’em. It’s nice to get some TV time.

3. Attack, attack, attack!
Meanwhile, with the break disintegrating up the road, there was a flurry of attacks on the middle slopes of the Plateau de Beille as all of Team Sky’s rivals tried to discomfort Chris Froome.

Contador, Nibali and Valverde all had a go (Contador’s attack coming just moments after the Sherliggetts had pointed out how rubbish he looked). All were closed down rapidly by Richie Porte, riding a pretty fierce tempo.

Porte eventually cracked, and immediately Nairo Quintana was off the front, this time forcing Froome to chase while Geraint Thomas worked his way back into contact.

It was pretty thrilling to watch, but Sky had an answer to every challenge. Still, another week of constant attacks from every direction and we might see Porte and Thomas worn out a bit earlier and opportunity might – MIGHT – open up. Clearly everyone knows this. They just have to keep Sky working like dogs, which is easier said than done.

Valverde is now so important to Movistar’s chances with Quintana. Because he is too dangerous to let go, he’s the perfect first punch in the team’s left-right combination. The received wisdom about too many leaders causing disharmony doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Spanish squad. They’ve turned it into a strength.

2. Purito

A few days ago I said that losing time could actually be good news for J. Rodriguez, because it meant he would be given latitude to chase more stage wins.

Well, yes.

He may have missed his chance to win a Grand Tour, but Purito is still a wonderful climber, and once it was clear the break was staying away it was his to lose. What a magnificent painface he has, too.

Two stage wins at the halfway mark of the Tour. Not bad for an old fella.

1. Froome 

I don’t think Froome was having a good day. It didn’t matter though, because he’s got the strongest teammates in Porte and Thomas, he’s clearly at least as strong as Quintana, and stronger than the flickering Nibali and over-cooked Contador. Tejay van Garderen is hanging in there, but he lacks the dangerous acceleration of the others and I get the sense that he’s riding for a podium place – he won’t risk everything for the win.

With the Pyrenees over, Froome would have to crash, get sick, or suffer an absolutely catastrophic bonk to lose this Tour.

Valverde can snipe seconds at the finish all he wants, but it’s not going to make a scintilla of difference overall unless Froome can be isolated early and worked over by Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana and BMC pooling their resources against a common enemy.

Hey, it might happen.

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.

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