Thursday, July 13, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2017 Tour de France Stage 12


The Tour de France can be hard to watch. It’s usually pretty boring because, being the most important stage race on the calendar, it draws out the best dopers, which for the most part are on Team Sky. The way Sky dominates this race, it’s a bit like if the Chicago Cubs were up against a minor league team for the World Series. Worst of all, the announcers have to play along like this is legit and say nice things about everybody.  Well, as you can see, this blog is different.  Being an unpaid nobody, I can gnash my terrible teeth and roar my terrible roar as I see fit, which might just breathe some life into my coverage.

Today my blow-by-blow report covers a pivotal mountain stage of this year’s Tour.  Since this is the first Tour stage I’m covering, I’ll also catch you up on what’s been going on since July 1 when the race started.

2017 Tour de France Stage 12 – Pau to Peyragudes

As I join the action, the riders are on the penultimate climb, the aptly named Porte de Balles.  I think that’s the name, anyway … kind of blurry.  It’s a huis categorie climb (i.e., it could beat up your dad’s climb).  The peloton has got 44 kilometers to go. There’s a breakaway of eleven unimportant riders 4:23 ahead.

A couple of other nobodies attacks.  They’re Fortuneo-Vital Concept teammates Maxime Bouet and Brice Feillu. I guess I’ve heard of Feillu.  Kind of a strange story how he got his first name:  it was a typo.  It was supposed to be Bruce, but you know “i” is an adjacent key.

So here’s what’s going on in this year’s Tour so far.  There are only two time trials in this edition, and they’re pretty short ones at that.  Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas won the first one, which was the prologue, and kept the yellow jersey until his teammate Chris Froome took it from him on Stage 5, the first mountaintop finish of the race.  Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) won that stage, taking 20 seconds out of Froome.  (Thomas crashed out of the Tour a few days later.)  After a couple more mountain stages, Froome retains the lead but has only 18 seconds on Aru on the GC.  Looks like a close race, eh?

No, not really.  Aru lost 40 seconds to Froome in that measly 14-kilometer time trial, so the Italian climber will have to take at least two minutes out of Froome over the remaining four mountain stages if he wants a shot at winning the GC.  I suppose two minutes is possible, but Aru has finished the Tour just once in four tries, and was only 13th place last year.  Meanwhile, the rider currently third on GC, Romain Bardet, is 51 seconds back on GC and lost 39 seconds in the first TT, so he’d need to be like 2½ minutes ahead of Froome before the final TT.  If Froome were a normal rider, all too human and subject to bad days and so forth, that wouldn’t be insurmountable.  But Froome isn’t normal, obviously.  Anyway, of the guys who beat Froome in the opening TT, the closest on GC is Stefan Krug (Team BMC), who’s over an hour down, in 100th place overall.  ‘Nuff said.

It’s 38 kilometers to go, with the breakaway’s gap down to 3:17.  The GC group is starting to pick it up and riders are going off the back so fast it’s like they’re being clotheslined.  I saw a guy actually get clotheslined once while riding a motor scooter.  It was brutal, and he had this big red welt on this throat, like a grisly red line, for like a week. I know that has nothing to do with this bike race but it’s a lot more interesting than what I’m seeing on my screen, which is Sky predictably swarming the front, all in yellow helmets, while the Astana team, supporting Aru, lurks just behind them.

Froome’s closest rival ought to be Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team), who brought some serious high-test lube to the Criterium du Dauphiné a few weeks back.  How doped was this guy?  Well, consider that although he’s a pocket climber (i.e., 5 feet 8 inches, 137 pounds, rides a 48cm bike for crissakes), he handily won the Dauphiné time trial, beating not only Froome but Tony Martin (Team Katusha-Alpecin), the reigning time trial world champion.  When a climber wins a major TT against top riders, I get suspicious.  The surface area to mass ratio of a climber just isn’t suited to cutting through the wind in a fast TT.  Size does matter ... why do you think sprinters can’t climb?  (And what other little climber dudes have won major TTs?  Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Tyler Hamilton, all known dopers.) Anyway, I feel like a dick bringing up Porte’s probable doping, because sadly, the Aussie is out of this Tour after a terrible high-speed crash on Sunday. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, of course. Also, Porte would have made this a much more exciting race, and I’d rather have seen him win than Froome.  Oh well.

Oddly, Feuillu has dropped his teammate, Bouet. Why would he do that?  This is probably a coincidence, but Bouet now has a dark stripe up the back of his white shorts. What’s that all about? I don’t see a stripe on anybody else’s shorts and the road isn’t wet or anything. Maybe he shat himself! I know it’s not nice to cast aspersions like that, but then again, the dude is wearing white cycling shorts.  I think he’s got it coming, and his whole team as well.

It’s 6 km to the summit of this climb and still no attacks in the GC group.  Maybe nobody wants to get a lead before the final descent—given what happened to poor Porte—and are waiting for the last climb.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) attacks the breakaway!  He has a beard.  Not many racers do. Will this help or hurt his chances?  I’m not sure but in the Eurosport post-stage review with Juan Antonio Flecha we’re bound to find out how De Gendt’s beard played in to the ultimate stage result.

So, to continue my review of the rest of the Tour so far, the green jersey competition is pretty much doomed to be a yawner this year.  Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) has virtually no competition, having won five stages so far.  Two of his main rivals are out.  Peter Sagan (Hora-Hansgrohe) was disqualified for crashing Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in stage 4.  Cav, meanwhile, was too badly injured to continue this Tour.  Besides Kittel, the only sprinter who has won a stage this year was Arnaud Démare (FDJ), who—amazingly—was cut from the race for losing too  much time on Sunday’s mountain stage.

Why “amazingly”?  Because Démare is a great climber!  He’s that one-in-a-million sprinter who can climb like the dickens!  In fact, he holds the Strava record for the famous Poggio climb in the Milan-San Remo road race!  Okay, I’m bullshitting you here.  Not about Démare’s Strava record for the Poggio, which he actually did get, but about him being able to climb.  He won last year’s Milan-San Remo because he blatantly cheated, hanging on to his team car all the way up the Poggio.  Read all about it here! So yeah, I was stoked to see Démare fall behind in the points competition and then be sent home for missing the time cut.  What a douchebag.

The peloton continues to thin out as Sky chases.  The gap is down to 2:41 (though I can’t tell if that’s to De Gendt or the rest of the break).  Bouet has been absorbed and Feuillu will be soon.

Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) has attacked out of the breakaway and caught De Gendt.  I didn’t see it happen … he either faked out the cameraman, or me, or both.  He’s a sneaky little bastard!  Interesting tidbit:  Cummings is the grandson of e.e. cummings, the mediocre poet whose contribution to poetry was to be the first one to eschew all punctuation and capitalization.  (Maynard, please run that down post-production and fact-check it … I’m pretty sure it’s true but am starting to wonder if I made it up.  About being the grandson I mean.)

Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) detonates and is going backwards, off the back like a comet.  It can’t be easy setting tempo for Froome, no matter how lubed you are.  It’s no matter though … Sky still has plenty of dudes at the front (and in fact a highly “not normal” number, though that’s normal for Sky).

Any scandals in this Tour?  Well, there was a lot of bickering about whether Sagan should have been disqualified.  I don’t have much to say on that because I only watched the video footage like 100 times, and most of the Internet pundits have watched it at least 1,000.  The other scandal is about Aru attacking while Froome was having bike problems.  The announcers and post-race commentators zealously tore into this one, with all the Internet trolls adding their considerable expertise to the debate.  Aru defended himself, saying he didn’t notice that Froome was having bike problems, and I tend to believe him … after all, Froome’s head is down half the time anyway.  What is it with Froome and mechanical problems?  Remember the 2015 Tour when his gears were mashing or something and Vincenzo Nibali attacked him?  At least this time around, post-race, Froome declined to take the bait and cry foul—maybe he read my diatribe about this and learned his lesson!  (No, of course he didn’t.)

Anyway, I totally support attacking the GC leader, whether he’s crashed, had a mechanical, or had to take a dump on the side of the road.  All this “unwritten rule” talk is pure BS.  What other sport or contest doesn’t let you take advantage of the leader’s bad luck?  Imagine if you’re playing Monopoly and one guy has like all the monopolies and all the money and has like a dozen hotels and is gradually bleeding everybody dry—and then he gets the Chance card that says, “You are assessed for street repairs.”  What are you gonna do, appreciate the relief, or say, “You know what, just take another card, we wouldn’t want to harm your chances, since you’re already winning and everything.”  Luck is supposed to be part of this sport—it makes things more exciting.  And any Tour with Froomestrong in it needs whatever twists and turns it can get.

With under 10 km to go in the stage, Sky is still dominant at the front.  Needless to say.

Wow, Spain (I’m reduced to watching a foreign-language video feed today) has really racy commercials!  Lots of scantily-clad women!  Who knew?  Now it’s back to the race, I guess, but it’s just some unknown person blathering away about the time trial course.  WTF?!  Time trials are boring enough to watch, much less talk about.  This coverage sucks.

Okay, I’ve dismissed that silly all-TT-blather-all-the-time feed and now have nothing.  Wow, cool!  I tried a third browser and now have the Eurosport feed.  What a relief.  It’s the good announcers and everything.  Wait … okay, now it’s vanished.  I sent a note in the little chat to the admins, and they replied, “both are working. the problem is at you.”  Story of my life.

Now I’ve switched to a different PC and a different Internet feed.  Gosh, I’ve missed a lot.  Cummings is still the leader, solo, and he’s got 2 minutes on the GC group with 12 km to go.  He’s on the last real climb of the day, the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde.  Its summit is just 5 km from the finish, which is atop the supposedly Category 2 climb to Peyragudes, which looks so short on the profile I can’t imagine how it got that rating.  It doesn’t really matter though, because my feed has dried up again.  Should I just stop now?  Let you go about your day?  Okay, I’m back to the first PC. 

Wow, Kwiatowski (Team Sky) blows sky-high!  The hammer has truly gone down in the main GC bunch and Cummings’ lead is suddenly down to just over a minute.  The GC group is down to 11 riders, three of which are Sky.

Man, within the last minute Cummings’ lead went down to under 30 seconds … he’s doomed.  Oh man, suddenly he looks deflated … he’s really suffering.

And just like that, they’ve got him. 

And now Cummings is spat right out the back!  Poor dude.

Dang, while my feed was AWOL, it looks like Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) got dropped!  I guess he’s no longer even an outside contender for this Tour.  Must have tired himself out trying (in vain) to win the Giro.

Not a single non-Sky rider has seen the front of this GC group all day.  And Froome hasn’t faced the wind for more than about a minute or two, cumulatively, since July 1.  I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work, but I wish something would break down.  The Giro d’Italia was really exciting because winner Tom Dumoulin’s team was so frail, he had to do a ton of work himself and he only just barely got it done.

Aru is just sitting on Froome’s wheel, as he’s been the whole day.  He’s brashly told the press that he’s not afraid to attack Froome, and my reaction is like, duh!  Are you a racer or not?  It’s not like he’ll do anything in the TT, so sitting around and hoping Froome’s clockworks finally wind down isn’t much of a winning strategy.  But we’re 1.4 km from the summit of this climb and it’s just Sky slogging away on the front while Froome sits there and Aru, Bardet, and Uran just sit there too.  I guess the pace is just too high for anyone to attack.  Not since the Indurain years has a Tour stage been this boring.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Froome sucked at descending, like Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)?  Then you might see people trying to take advantage.  But I have to hand it to Froome, he’s a very good descender, and deserves full credit for it.  After all, there’s no syringe for descending fast.

And just like that, the GC group is over the summit of the Col de Peyresourde.

I guess it’ll be exciting to see who gets the stage win. With bonus seconds on the line Sky won’t be giving anything up to anybody. Meanwhile, if Froome can’t put in his first real effort of the day up this last little section and increase his GC lead, I’ll eat my hat.

Of course, even if everything suddenly goes sideways for Sky at the end, remember that Aru needs to accumulate a two-minute lead over these climbing stages before the final TT if he wants to win.  If he doesn’t even have enough strength to mount a single attack today, he might as well give up his GC ambitions.  Then he could pick a stage to go off the back and build up a huge deficit so Sky no longer cares about him. Following that, he could go hunt for another stage win.  It would be pretty sad if he had to resort to such dregs, of course.

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) is somewhere off the back.  He’s crashed several times and is completely done, not just for this Tour but for his career, I’m afraid.

It’s just 1.5 km to go and still Sky, Sky, Sky. 

Warren Barguil (Sunweb), the current KOM leader, is off the back with Quintana.

With 1 km to go, Froome moves up to second position, the closest to the front of this GC group he’s been all day.  Dan Martin is moving over to the side, as if to prepare for an attack, or at least center the football for a field goal attempt.  And ... my feed freezes again.

And look at this!  George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) attacks!  

But he’s instantly shut down!  And there goes Froome!  But this footage is just a slide show now!  I can’t see shit!  And now Aru is somehow in the front!  He’s drilling it but the grade is severe!

Now suddenly Bardet is in the lead!  Every time my feed restarts the positions are different!  Now I see why this short climb is a Category 2 ... the grade is unbelievably steep!

Froome is over the line but I can’t tell who won, I missed it!  Internet Tour coverage sucks!

Looks like Bardet got the win, with Uran getting second and Aru third.  Unbelievably, Froome lost like 20 seconds right at the end there.  Maybe his legs froze along with my feed?  Wow, I guess I need to eat my hat now! Froome is clearly not so dominant as in years past.

With the time bonuses, Aru could be the new GC leader because remember, he was only 18 seconds back. 

Here is the stage result, which is as much news to you as to me:

Okay, after some more scrambling for feeds, I  see the new GC, and sure enough, Aru has the yellow jersey, but only by six seconds.

The jersey will be a nice souvenir for Aru, and maybe he’ll even survive tomorrow and keep it for a while.  It’s too bad for him he didn’t (couldn’t?) try something earlier.

It’s tempting to think Froome could still lose this Tour.  Among the GC contenders there’s only one guy who can really time trial, that being Rigoberto Uran.  Uran did win a long time trial during the 2014 Giro d’Italia, but remember, notwithstanding his climbing prowess right now, he lost 51 seconds to Froome in this Tour’s first TT.

Meanwhile, the support Sky gave Froome today was pretty unbelievable (in every sense of the word). Time will tell, but in my biased opinion, Sky’s overall Tour campaign is looking alive and all too well.


I have now gone and watched the finish via freeze-free replays, and can see that I obviously missed the most exciting part of the race by far. I have also heard commentators weighing in on the controversy (recounted here) around Landa totally dropping Froome in the final sprint and taking 17 seconds out of him.  Here, I have to totally disagree with anybody who finds a problem here, and even with Landa for claiming not to have known what was going on.  Landa has nothing to apologize for.  That grade was unbelievably steep and the speed was not that high, so drafting would not have made a big difference ... and meanwhile, if Froome couldn’t find a wheel to follow that’s his problem.  At some point, you just may not have the legs, and he didn’t.  And let’s not forget that Landa is a totally legitimate GC contender and Sky’s best shot if something were to happen to Froome (e.g., crash, terribly timed mechanical, failed dope test, or one really bad day).  Why would you make Landa wait, with only like 300 meters to go? How much moral support could he even give Froome? I’m getting kind of tired of how everybody is trying to baby the yellow jersey.  He is (or was) a Tour leader, for crissakes, not an infant!  And we’re supposed to be rabid spectators, not helicopter parents! Dang.

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