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Nibali slides to opportunity

Tour de France, Stage 5.

Apart from stage winner Greg Van Avermaet’s epic stage win (maybe crashing out of the Tour of Flanders and missing Paris-Roubaix has an upside), people are talking about Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and his terrible day.

Cycling Central has it here.

I’ve got a CRAAAAAZY theory about Nibali’s slide down the overall rankings, shipping more than EIGHT MINUTES to the GC big boys, on a stage that he really should have had no trouble with. Cue mutterings about his form, his bad legs, and his overall ambitions being dashed. I suppose that’s the official line.

Bullshit, the lot of it. It’s all part of his cunning plan. Consider:

  • Nibali has already won a Grand Tour this season (and he knows what happens if you try to do the Giro/Tour double).
  • Nibali cannot stand his team leader, Fabio Aru. They hate each other’s guts. Nibali is ostensibly riding in support of Aru, but clearly doesn’t want to.
  • Nibali does not give a shit about the general classification.
  • Nibali wants to win the Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro in a few weeks. This whole Tour is a training ride for him.
  • Nibali knows he is more than good enough to win a stage or two in the mountains, especially if he’s not a GC threat.
  • Nibali is almost certainly out the door at Astana at the end of the season. He probably feels like he owes them absolutely nothing.

That’s why Vincenzo looked like he wasn’t even trying on stage 5, when he plopped off the back as soon as Movistar turned on the power. He wasn’t trying.

He wasn’t breathing hard, his shoulders weren’t rocking, he wasn’t all twisted and hunched like the injured Alberto Contador, and he wasn’t pedalling squares like Peter Sagan. He was cruising along like it was a coffee ride, giving zero fucks. In fact, you could almost see him calculating how much time he needed to lose before he’d be allowed up the road in the Pyrenees this weekend.

Now consider what’s coming up:

  • Stage 7 – a Cat.1 climb to the Col d’Aspin followed by a descent to the finish in Lac de Payolle – looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 8 – the Col du Tourmalet (HC) followed  by three categorised climbs culminating in the Col de Peyresoude followed by a descent to the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon – also looks almost tailor-made for the Shark.
  • Stage 9 – five categorised climbs with a HC summit finish in Andorra, looks like a great place for the shark to do what he did on stage 19 of the Giro.

Don’t be surprised if Nibali pulls out the earpiece on any of these stages, launches himself up the road and takes a bit of glory for himself. It’d be a perfect slap in the [rubber] face to Aru, adds to his market value in a new contract year, and reminds everyone why he’s nicknamed after an apex predator.

For that plan to work, it’s a big advantage if he’s not a threat to Team Sky, Movistar, Tinkoff or BMC.

Besides, can you really see Nibali playing loyal domestique to his understudy and arch-rival Aru? With his ego? Haaaahahaha!

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Tour de France Stage 11 preview

LIVE BLOG AT THE ROAR

The Tour de France begins its second phase tonight, after a rest day that gave everyone a chance to process the tumultuous events of the first ten days of the race.

For a week where the script had to be torn up again and again, stage 10 produced a cliffhanger episode worthy of HBO. Favourite characters (or villains, depending on your feelings regarding Mr Contador) were written out of the plot, new storylines emerged, and fevered speculation over a broken bike added a touch of intrigue.

Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) tightened his grip on the maillot jaune with a decisive attack on the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles. He now leads the race by 2’23” to Australia’s Richie Porte (Sky), with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 2’47”.

If the past week has taught us anything, it’s that everything can change in an instant, but so far Nibali has ridden a perfect race.

Stage 11 is a challenging 187km route from Besançon to Oyonnax.

Stage 11: it's gonna be lumpy.
Stage 11: it’s gonna be lumpy.

A classic transitional stage between the Vosges and the Alps, it features three Category 3 climbs and a single Category 4, but there is barely a flat moment and riders with dull legs after the rest day will suffer.

The finish in Oyonnax comes after a 15km descent from the Côte d’Échallon – the first time the Tour has finished in this city.

It’s not really a day where the GC leaders would expect to duke it out, but a breakaway stands a good chance – perhaps an opportunity for the freshly decapitated Tinkoff-Saxo squad to regain some purpose?

Also watch out for Orica-GreenEdge to have a dig. The Australian team lost its road captain Matt Hayman during the rest day, but still has plenty of riders who could do well on a stage like this. The Roar’s Luke Durbridge seems positive.

Fabian Cancellara also withdrew on the rest day. He will return home for some R&R before beginning his build up to the World Championships.

I’ll be live-blogging the stage on The Roar from 10pm AEST.

 

Onto the cobbles

LIVE BLOG AT THE ROAR.

Cobbles. Pavé. Setts. Words that strike chords of trepidation, nostalgia and excitement in the minds of cyclists and fans alike. Romanticised for over a century by some of cycling’s greatest races, the Tour de France visits the revered granite stones of Arenberg for tonight’s fifth stage of the Tour de France.

The stage begins in Ypres, Belgium, scene of five of the most devastating attritional battles of WWI, to mark the centenary of the start of that war.

The route takes us south into France and through Roubaix, home of the most famous of all of cycling’s single-day classics, Paris-Roubaix.

Known as l’enfer du Nord,  the “Hell of the North”, since race organisers surveilling the route after the Armistice of 1918 discovered the utter destruction inflicted on the region, the race and the town itself hold a special place in cycling folklore.

The route continues south, taking us backwards through nine of the most famous cobbled sections of Paris-Roubaix, finishing in the town of Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

Fortunately for the riders, the Tour doesn’t race through the Arenberg Trench, widely considered the most sadistic piece of road in road cycling.

Photo credit: Luca Pedroni (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sportpixonline/7062390897/)
Photo credit: Luca Pedroni (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sportpixonline/7062390897/)

It does, however, visit the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, which is also rated 5 stars for difficulty.

Stage 5, at 155km in total, is a good 102km shorter than Paris-Roubaix. Differing team objectives and tactics will change the way the race is approached.

Riding on cobbles is a highly specialised skill, and there are relatively few riders who are expected to be among the favourites for the win today. The cobbles suit bigger, heavier, more powerful riders who can maintain their momentum without being bounced around as much as the lighter climbers.

The hot favourite for the stage win is Trek’s Fabian Cancellara, who has won each of Paris-Roubaix and cycling’s other cobbled Monument, the Tour of Flanders, three times.

This year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (OPQS), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) will also be among the favourites.

Orica-GreenEdge will have high hopes for Matt Hayman and Jens Keukeleire.

For the GC men, it will be a day of survival, staying upright at all costs. There will be no way of hiding in the peloton: the safest place to be will be out in front. Teams will ride hard to get the best position before each cobbled sector.

That old cliche about the Tour being impossible to win today, but easy to lose, is entirely apt. The likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador normally wouldn’t go near a cobbled race, not for a million bucks.

As Richie Porte wrote in his column for Fairfax:

“I’ll be front up, but I have no experience racing on cobbles. We did a reconnaissance ride over them in preparation for the Tour. So how do we get on and face the cobbles in race conditions?

From what I understand, positioning in the bunch on the approach to each sector is the key, as is keeping a calm and cool head under pressure.”

Today, riders like Porte have no choice. They have to face up to one of cycling’s sternest tests.

The weather forecast predicts an 80% chance of rain in the region, which would make conditions exponentially more treacherous for the riders. If the Tour organisers wanted to commemorate an attritional bloodbath in Northern France, a stage across wet cobbles is certainly one way of doing it.

For the spectators, it promises to be an intriguing spectacle.

I’ll be live-blogging the stage over at The Roar – Cycling from 10pm.

The Tour de France is nearly here: sleep while you still can!

The Tour de France is nearly upon us, and July is going to be a magnificent bleary-eyed sporting hell.

The usual toothpick-scaffolding required to keep your eyes open in meetings by mid-July will need extra reinforcement this year, as the world’s biggest annual sporting event coincides with the world’s biggest sporting event full stop.

It’s a king tide of sleep deprivation: the Tour de France will finish each night just in time for kick-off in Brazil, with barely a pause for a disco nap before switching from polka dots and camembert to a Brazil shirt and a cheeky glass of cachaça.

It’d be an insomniac sports fan’s wet dream, if that wasn’t a contradiction in terms.

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m already basking in the hazy embrace of jet-free jetlag. I’m not a football expert by any stretch, but I’ve been more than willing to treat the World Cup as the pro peloton treats a last-minute block of altitude training: after all, nothing beats acclimatisation, and this World Cup is pretty excellent.

A few 2am starts a week are the perfect preparation for three tense weeks of gruelling chess on wheels.

As a result, my form for watching this Tour de France is better than it has ever been. My coffee machine is churning out double espressos faster than a Tinkoff-Saxo mechanic can change a wheel, and I’ve had the glassy-eyed stare into space working a treat in every meeting for the last fortnight.

My preferred survival techniques for the next month include grabbing a couple of hours’ sleep between dinner time and the TV coverage (starting 10pm AEST most stages); coffee; sleeping on public transport; more coffee; sleeping in a meeting room at the office (perhaps set up a PowerPoint slide show full of boring graphs on loop to warn off anyone glancing through the windows); yet another coffee; and a big bowl of Harden The F*** Up.

This is an endurance sport, spectating, and it requires preparation and dedication. You need to maintain your energy levels. Under no circumstances let your fridge or pantry run out of late-night snacks. You’ll definitely need to send a domestique (in my case, I am the domestique) back to the fridge for refreshments during the stages.

Timing is everything. Nobody wants to suffer a hunger flat on one of the key climbs of the race, and the shame of missing Contador attacking Froome on the Col du Tourmalet because you forgot to get the brie out of the fridge before the sprint point at Trébons would be almost unbearable.

Understand that road racing means performing in conditions that vary immensely from region to region. Don’t go in with the attitude that the same approach will work in all conditions.

A pint of bitter and a packet of pork scratchings is a perfectly appropriate accompaniment to Stages 1-3 (Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and London), but will be frowned upon when the race reaches France.

Similarly, it’s Flemish beers in your bidon for Stage 5 (which starts in Ypres); save the Beaujolais for Stage 12, which finishes in St. Etienne; and the wines of Aude, Jurançon and Madiran for the Pyrenean Stages 16, 17 and 18.

Italian or Spanish wine are perfectly acceptable if you’re supporting Vincenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador, but I would probably avoid Kenyan or British plonk even if you want to give Chris Froome a morale boost.

Of course there are also plenty of riders from countries with excellent beer, so perhaps responsibly sipping something from the homeland of the previous day’s stage winner would be an appropriate mark of respect?

Of course Australia’s brewers and winemakers are just as talented and successful as Australia’s cyclists, so here’s hoping that the victories keep on rolling for Orica-GreenEdge and the Aussies riding for other teams.

Obviously it’s not just about the flash food and fancy booze. This is a bike race.

Non-OGE Aussies include Richie Porte (Sky), Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Heinrich Haussler (IAM), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura). At the time of writing, Garmin-Sharp has yet to announce its squad, so there might be more if Rohan Dennis earns a place.

Speaking of Dempster, it’s his first Tour de France (and the first for his team) so keep an eye out for him. He earned his spot with a couple of very good results at the Tour of California, even beating German ace John Degenkolb in a sprint in Stage 7.

Someone spotted a camera.

Sadly, there is no Cadel Evans this year. The great man has passed on the BMC Tour de France leadership to his younger American teammate Tejay van Garderen, and judging from his Twitter feed will be spending July rolling around Lake Como and drinking coffee.

On the one hand, I’m sad to be missing Cadel. On the other, it’ll be refreshing to watch a Tour without the stress of high expectations for an Aussie overall win.

Australians will be crucial in the GC battle, though – Richie Porte and Michael Rogers are the top lieutenants for the two hottest overall favourites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador respectively.

If the recent Criterium du Dauphine is any guide, there is barely anything between the two in terms of form. Team support will be crucial. Tinkoff-Saxo has been rocked by the suspension of Roman Kreuziger for a possible biological passport infraction from 2011-2012, which makes Rogers’ role even more important.

I expect this Tour to be much more open than the previous two years, with Contador back in form and a team capable of hurting Team Sky.

Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde also showed they’re peaking at the right time with victories in their respective national time trial championships over the weekend (and a 2nd in the Spanish road race to Valverde, who let his teammate Ion Izaguirre take the win).

In lead-up races Nibali’s Astana and Valverde’s Movistar have shown a willingness to put Sky to the sword at every opportunity, so don’t expect everyone to sit back and let the British team have it all on their own terms this year.

Froome has looked extremely impressive at times, but his season has been far from perfect, and the same goes for Richie Porte, who has question marks over his form.

My smokies are Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura).

There’s the sprint battles between Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Arnaud Demare, Elia Viviani and Michael Matthews, which will be huge.

Then there’s the cobbles of Arenberg (stage 5), where pavé-masters Fabian Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke and Greg Van Avermaet can reprise their Paris-Roubaix/Tour of Flanders rivalry while a bunch of skinny climbers rattle around like cartoon skeletons on a haunted train.

And then there’s Simon Gerrans, who sounds dangerously confident of snatching another stage win.

There’ll be something to look forward to in every stage, so suck it up, get your coffee addiction cranked up to 11, and prepare to stumble dazed through July like the best sleep-deprived-zombie-muttering-in-French that you can be.

Until then, SLEEP WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

 

This article first appeared on The Roar.

Tour de France 2014 team lists

All teams have now been announced. Australian riders highlighted in red.

Designated GC leader listed first, where team has GC as primary objective.

Riders with a strikethrough have  withdrawn from the race.

AG2R La Mondiale

Romain Bardet, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Christophe Riblon, Mikael Cherel, Ben Gastauer, Sébastien Minard, Samuel Dumoulin, Blel Kadri, Matteo Montaguti.

Astana

Vincenzo Nibali, Tanel Kangert, Jakob Fuglsang, Michele Scarponi, Andriy Grivko, Alessandro Vanotti, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Lieuwe Westra, Maxim Iglinskiy.

Belkin

Bauke Mollema, Lars Boom, Stef Clement, Laurens ten Dam, Steven Kruijswijk, Tom Leezer, Bram Tankink, Sep Vanmarcke and Maarten Wynants.

BMC

Tejay van Garderen, Darwin Atapuma, Marcus Burghardt, Amaël Moinard, Daniel Oss, Michael Schär, Peter Stetina, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Velits.

Bretagne-Seche

Brice Feillu, Jean-Marc Bideau, Armindo Fonseca, Florian Vachon, Anthony Delaplace, Arnaud Gérard, Romain Feillu, Florian Guillou, Benedict Jarrier.

Cannondale

Peter Sagan, Elia Viviani, Maciej Bodnar, Kristijan Koren, Ted King, Fabio Sabatini, Jean-Marc Marino, Marco Marcato, Alessandro De Marchi.

Cofidis

Julien Simon, Daniel Navarro, Luis Angel Mate, Egoitz Garcia,  Cyril Lemoine, Adrien Petit, Nicolas Edet, Rein Taaramae, Rudy Molard.

Europcar

Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, Yukio Arashiro, Bryan Coquard, Cyril Gautier, Yohann Gène, Alexandre Pichot, Perrig Quemeneur, Kevin Reza.

FDJ.fr

Thibaut Pinot, Arnaud Démare, William Bonnet, Mickael Delage, Arnold Jeannesson, Matthieu Ladagnous, Jérémy Roy and Arthur Vichot.

Garmin-Sharp

Andrew Talansky, Ben King, Alex Howes, Janier Acevedo, Jack Bauer, Sebastian Langeveld, Ramunas Navardauskas, Tom Slagter, Johan Vansummeren.

Giant-Shimano

Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Koen De Kort, Dries Devenyns, Tom Dumoulin, Cheng Ji,  Albert Timmer, Tom Veelers, Roy Curvers.

IAM Cycling

Sylvain Chavanel, Martin Elmiger, Heinrich Haussler, Sébastien Reichenbach, Mathias Frank, Reto Hollenstein, Roger Kluge, Jerome Pineau, and Marcel Wyss.

Katusha

Joaquim Rodriguez, Alexander Kristoff, Vladimir Isaychev, Luca Paolini, Aleksandr Porsev, Egor Silin, Gatis Smukulis, Simon Špilak, Yury Trofimov.

Lampre-Merida

Rui Costa, Chris Horner, Davide Cimolai, Kristijan Durasek, Sacha Modolo, Nelson Oliveira, Ariel Richeze, Josè Serpa, Rafael Valls.

Lotto-Belisol

Jurgen Van den Broeck, André Greipel, Adam HansenGreg Henderson, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg, Tony Gallopin,  Lars Bak, Bart De Clercq.

Movistar

Alejandro Valverde, Imanol Erviti, John Gadret, Jesús Herrada, Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Rubén Plaza, José Joaquín Rojas , Giovanni Visconti.

NetApp-Endura

Leopold König, Jan Barta, David de la Cruz, Zak Dempster, Bartosz Huzarski, Tiago Machado, José Mendes, Andreas Schillinger, and Paul Voss.

Omega Pharma-Quickstep

Michal Kwiatkowski, Jan Bakelants, Mark Cavendish, Michal Golas, Tony Martin, Alessandro Petacchi, Mark Renshaw, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin.

Orica-GreenEdge

Simon Gerrans, Jens Keukeleire, Luke Durbridge, Mathew Hayman, Michael Albasini,  Simon Clarke, Simon Yates, Svein Tuft, Christian Meier.

Sky

Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Bernard Eisel, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Danny Pate, Xabier Zandio.

Tinkoff-Saxo

Alberto Contador, Michael Rogers, Nicolas Roche, Rafal Majka, Sergio Paulinho, Jesus Hernandez, Michael Morkov, Daniele Benatti, Matteo Tossato

Kreuziger is out (suspended due to bio passport issues).

Trek Factory Racing

Fabian Cancellara, Fränk Schleck, Andy Schleck, Haimar Zubeldia, Jens Voigt, Matthew Busche, Markel Irizar, Gregory Rast, and Danny van Poppel.