Tag Archives: TDF2014

Flawless Nibali has got this Tour on a silver platter

After a first week that tore up every script and binned some of the best-laid plans, followed by a second week that tipped the rubbish bin full of torn-up scripts and plans upside down and set them on fire, the Tour’s third week has settled to a steady pile of glowing embers.

Sure, it’s theoretically possible that it could re-ignite and burn the house down, but it’s starting to look relatively safe and predictable for Vincenzo Nibali. Break out the marshmallows.

It has to be said, the Italian has ridden a flawless Tour de France so far. He’s taken only the best calculated risks, made no mistakes, never looked in peril, and seized every opportunity to put time into his rivals.

He’s beaten all of his GC rivals comfortably on every important climb. Here’s the breakdown of where he took time from his closest challenger, Alejandro Valverde:

Stage 2: 2 seconds

Stage 5: 2:09

Stage 8: 16 seconds

Stage 10: 20 seconds

Stage 13: 50 seconds

Stage 14: 1:00

Stage 17: 48 seconds.

It’s a leaky bucket that just can’t be patched. Every time it gets picked up a bit more liquid sloshes out and disappears into the dust.

The Nibali method in the mountains is not dissimilar to that of Team Sky: use his Astana teammates to set a tempo hard enough to soften everyone up, before Nibali attacks with around 2km remaining, depending on the gradient and race situation.

A short acceleration and maintaining a strong tempo to the finish is enough to open time gaps without needing him to dig so deep he risks being flat the following day.

It works, indeed it looks easy, because he is riding against two men past their best years (Valverde and Peraud) and a number who are acknowledged up and comers, but still a few years away from their peaks (Pinot, Bardet, van Garderen).

Nibali on the other hand is a worthy champion in every sense. He’s experienced, calm, and at the perfect age to win grand tours. He’s the best climber in the race, the best descender, and the most consistent. His focus is intense. He’s polite and humble in interviews. He has used his team with skill.

Anything less than victory would be an injustice, after the race he’s had.

Would it be different if Froome and Contador were still in the race? Undoubtedly, yes. But beating the course itself has always been half the battle in any Grand Tour, and both of the absent leaders failed to do so. There’s no point crying over that.

What I’m getting at is it’s nigh-on impossible to see Nibali losing from here without crashing. We all know it. Nibali knows it. Valverde knows it. Pinot knows it. Even Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen know it.

As leaders have fallen, the challenge to his Astana team’s control has evaporated.

Team Sky has collapsed, BMC has wilted. The GC hopes of Belkin and Lotto-Belisol have gone about as well as expected, with riders in the top ten but out of podium contention. NetApp-Endura will be overjoyed with Leopold Konig’s Tour, but the team simply doesn’t have the depth to challenge the big boys.

Tinkoff-Saxo has made a very effective pivot to a stage-win strategy, snagging three victories to salvage some pride from a Tour that could have been a disaster, but couldn’t give a fig about going head-to-head with Astana. Majka, Rogers and Roche made sure to lose enough time that they’d be given the freedom to go up the road.

Europcar is still playing for TV time.

AG2R has surprised with its strength: Bardet, Peraud and Blel Kadri have all been excellent.

Movistar has also managed an effective resistance, but when it has come to the crunch their leader hasn’t had the legs to follow Nibali, and in stage 17 the sight of Giovanni Visconti going for a stage win while his leader lost time showed that faith was wavering.

No wonder Astana director Alexandre Vinokourov hasn’t been seen without a grin for the past fortnight. Everything has gone to plan. His team has been the strongest. His leader has never faltered. The competition has collapsed. Perfect outcome!

With one mountain stage remaining, and a time trial, the GC battle for this Tour de France is practically over. I’m a huge fan of Vincenzo Nibali’s and he has ridden a magnificent race, but I still can’t help but feel disappointed with how early the fight for yellow became a procession.

This was no accident. Nibali is just a class above.


This article first appeared on The Roar.

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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.

Drink Le Tour!

An alternate Tour de France 2014 drinking game. Submissions welcome via Twitter.

 

Update Stage 16!

Due to a number of rider withdrawals, some of these rules no longer apply. I will strike them from the game and replace them with some new rules.

One sip

Adam Hansen’s carbon shoes

A chateau and/or ruins

A sticky bottle

Phil Sherwen says “in the month of March/April/May/June”

Paul Liggett gets a rider’s name wrong

Sherliggett explains what the different coloured jerseys mean

Contador gets out of the saddle

Marcel Kittel’s hair

Eddy Merckx

Wheel change

Europcar attacks

Gabriel Gate uses butter

You realise you’ve fallen asleep

A rider with a moustache

Fernando Alonso

An English rider

“Lanterne Rouge”

“Riding himself into form” (thanks to @ozwinereview)

NEW someone mentions “echelons”

NEW someone mentions how passionate/crazy the Basque fans are

NEW “former mountain bike rider”

Two sips

Thomas Voeckler’s Sex Face (#voecklersexface)

Jens Voigt attacks

Phil or Paul mentions that Jens Voigt is old

Any retired doper is mentioned

A spectator interferes with a rider

A crash

Chris Froome loses time on a stage (to anyone in the top ten)

NEW Anyone mentions Bradley Wiggins

Finish your drink

A Frenchman wins a stage

Any rider with a race number finishing with a 1 retires from the race

Chris Froome, Alberto Contador or Vincenzo Nibali win a stage

Lance Armstrong

 

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.