Sunday, July 11, 2021

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2021 Tour de France Stage 15


We’re into the final week of this year’s Tour de France. The UCI has demonstrated, by dismissing Chris Froome’s positive drug test a couple years ago, that they’re not really interested in enforcing the doping controls, so it’s been a very fast race so far. Now, if this kind of off-the-cuff comment offends you, go find some other coverage. Otherwise, read on for my biased blow-by-blow of Stage 15, which has some big mountains.

Tour de France Stage 15 – Céret to Andorre-La-Vieille

“They’ve got a lot of climbing still to come,” the first announcer says. Following which the second announcer says, “They’ve got a lot of climbing still to come.” The second guy could have just said, “indeed,” or “word,” or even “yeah,” but that’s not enough words. These guys are like grade school kids trying to nurse a two-page essay out of almost nothing. They have hours of coverage to fill so they repeat themselves, and each other, constantly. And now they’re talking about why most of the peloton wear white socks and white shoes. “Looks better,” one says. This is false, as is the contention that most shoes are even white. These guys are “talking dog farts,” as I like to say (though usually in reference to myself).

So as I join the action, there’s a breakaway of like 32 guys, who have 9:37 over the peloton. It includes Dan Martin (Israel Start-up Nation), Mike Woods (Israel Start-up Nation), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Julian Alaphillipe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa-Samsic), Nielson Powless (EF Education-Nippo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), and Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo-Visma). Back in the peloton, race leader Tadej Pogacar sits on while his UAE Team Emirates teammates drive tempo.

They’re not worried about the break. Though it has some riders who were supposed to be a threat on GC, none of them is anymore.

The announcers are blathering about what wheels the riders choose for a stage like this. I find this only marginally more interesting than yesterday’s discussion of a rider whose jersey lacked a zipper. The announcers droned on and on about this, to the bemusement of my wife, who (on a lark) decided to watch for a bit. After about five minutes of this jersey analysis she couldn’t take it anymore … it was actually even worse, she felt, than listening to me talking about the Tour. Anyway, all this is to say that nothing noteworthy is happening right now. They’ve got 72 kilometers to go.

“When they get to the main climb today there is almost no way they will have more than one bottle on their bikes as they will be looking to save weight wherever possible,” the announcer says needlessly. Why do I share this? Because I’m probably suffering even more than the riders right now, after hearing this blather for two weeks already, and I want you to appreciate my sacrifice in reporting all this.

They’re showing this morning’s interview with Alejandro Valverde:

INTERVIEWER: What is the hardest climb on the stage today?

VALVERDE: I don’t know yet, the race hasn’t started yet.

INTERVIEWER: Yesterday you were leading on the steepest part of a big climb and the announcer said you love the steep bits. Is this true?

VALVERDE: Of course not, I’m fricking old. I start these big climbs at the front so I can drift backward gradually, disrupting everyone’s rhythm and stretching out the group, so I can hopefully not get dropped.

INTERVIEWER: Your sunglasses are ridiculous. What’s up with that?

VALVERDE: I’m hiding my crow’s feet so as to not give comfort to the enemy.


VALVERDE: It’s pronounced touché, numbnuts.


So what’s happened in the Tour since my last report?  In the GC battle, Pogacar continued his dominance, destroying his would-be rivals and bringing his lead to over five minutes on the next rider until yesterday, when Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) got into a good breakaway and moved into second overall, “only” 4:04 behind Pogacar. Unless something truly remarkable happens, the GC is now a foregone conclusion. A bit more interesting has been the ongoing success of Mark Cavendish (Team Deceuninck-Quick Step) who keeps winning stages, and recently matched the Tour stage win record of Eddy Merckx. At least twice, Cav’s chain has fallen off right as he crossed the line, which is pretty crazy and explained (perhaps) here. In his last win, his phenomenal lead-out man, Michael Mørkøv, threw his chain in the final sprint, too, at least 50 feet before the line! That Mørkøv still finished second shows what a total badass he is, as if his awesome name with those weird bend-sinister Øs weren’t enough. These are the little nuggets of interest we have to look for when Pogacar is so dominant that the race itself is dull.

Now they’re showing the pre-race interview with Guillaume Martin.

INTERVIEWER: You’re in a great position now.

MARTIN: I’m not going to complain about being second overall. But really, I suck at this sport, and I’m going to get shelled today. It’s a pity since I ought to defend my position.

INTERVIEWER: That’s awfully humble of you.

MARTIN: Please, just leave me alone. I’m extremely fragile.

INTERVIEWER: Sorry. Sorry, dude. Sorry.

The race is still pretty boring. The announcer is running down a list of all the fines riders had to pay yesterday, for infractions like littering, taking a feed in the wrong place, and so on. It’s slightly interesting I guess. Now they’re talking about how riders share prize money with their teammates blah blah blah. The break still has 9:53 and they’re 1.6 kilometers from the summit of the Col de Puymorens (literally translated the Climb of the Little Morons).

Now they’re showing an interview with Gaudu.

INTERVIEWER: Are you feeling better after blowing chunks the other day?

GAUDU: Excuse me?

INTERVIEWER: You know, hurling.

GAUDU: Sorry?

INTERVIEWER: You know, booting. Barfing. Puking. Spewing. Upchucking. Vomiting.

GAUDU: Oh, right, right. Yes, I’m feeling better. I hope to have a better day, maybe getting into a breakaway. If there’s cooperation between the riders we could have a chance.


GAUDU: Pardon?

INTERVIEWER: Cooperation among the riders. Between would mean just two riders.

GAUDU: This interview is over.

The breakaway is almost to the summit where Michael Woods (Israel Start-up Nation) will try to defend his newly acquired KOM jersey. Okay, here they go … it looks like Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is going to get it!

Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) took second on the climb, with Woods only managing third. What do Poels and van Aert have in common? I’m deeply suspicious of both, Poels because so many riders on his team are obviously lubed (see my last report), and van Aert because he’s an awesome sprinter, rolleur, and time trialist and yet won the biggest mountain stage of this year’s Tour, twice up Mount Ventoux, in a solo breakaway. That would be like me suddenly writing an Oscar-winning screenplay or something. (And yet I like van Aert. I can’t help it.)

Back in the GC group, Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) drills it on the front, trying to set up an attack for his teammate Richard Carapaz, who sits fifth on GC, 5:33 behind Pogacar. Behind him are a bunch of Movistar guys, setting up their top guy, Enric Mas, who’s ninth, 7:11 back.

Now the GC group crests the summit of the Puymorens. They’ll do a short descent before tackling the Category 1 Port d’Envalira.

Okay, this is interesting. Jonathan Castroviejo (Ineos Grenadiers) is having a terrible problem with his back itching, and attempts to get some relief from a soigneur in the team car. “Up a little, just to the left—oh yeah, that’s it, oh, yeah, just a bit higher now,” he says.

We saw a similar issue yesterday with Omer Goldstein (Israel Start-up Nation), who wasn’t reachable by his team car and had to scratch his own itch, his arm snaking up through his jersey for several kilometers. This was much more interesting to my wife than the discussion of the amazing zipperless jersey, but ultimately not enough to keep her watching.

They’re into Andorra now and here’s a nice aerial shot.

As near as I can figure, Andorra (its own country, or at least an “independent principality”) is basically a ski resort.

Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) leads the break. He is one of the only bearded riders in the race.

Nibali attacks, and the breakaway pretty much explodes!

Quintana attacks and immediately gets a good gap!

OMG! Quintana isn’t screwing around here, he’s leaving them in the dust!

Quintana is putting the pussy on the chainwax!

Back in the breakaway things consolidate a bit as they organize a chase.

Quintana takes maximum KOM points. He’s got 25 seconds on the chasers.

And now van Aert takes the sprint from the break, and could possibly move into the KOM jersey if he keeps this up.

Back in the main GC group, Ineos is driving a ferocious pace and Pogacar has lost all his teammates. The GC group is dwindling, as the gap to the breakaway comes down.

And now the GC group is over the penultimate summit.

Suddenly, Ineos has more guys: two have dropped back from the breakaway to help. We can expect a big attack from Carapaz on the final climb. By “big” I mean he might force Pogacar to briefly ride out of the saddle, and may even get him breathing through his mouth.

Guillaume Martin, oddly enough, is dropped on the descent. This is unconscionably sloppy riding for any pro, but especially a guy sitting in second on GC.

The rider two behind Pogacar here, in the white jersey, is Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo-Visma). The jersey is on loan from Pogacar who obviously holds it. Vingagaard is the only rider to have distanced Pogacar on a climb in this Tour, so perhaps he’ll be able to do something today. He sits fourth on GC, 5:32 behind.

Now the GC group is led by Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), working for his teammate Wilco Kelderman (seventh on GC).

Guillaume Martin is going all-out trying to chase down this group. He’s working with Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck-Quick Step) who sits tenth overall, 9:48 down. I’ll bet Martin wishes he’d zipped up his jersey before the descent.

I wish they’d show the breakaway and whether Quintana is still out ahead. Okay, here they are. Van Aert leads and you can see Quintana back in there. The way he seemed to walk away from this group on the last climb, though, I think he could still have a chance for the stage win and a return to the KOM lead.

Okay, let’s see what we can learn about this GC group. Ineos is dominant, obviously, with four guys. It looks like Vingegaard has a teammate, just behind him.

Whoah, some dude misses a downhill corner! Look at him, over on the right!

That was Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and he managed not to stack. He’ll be able to rejoin the group. Whew!

In the breakaway, which has reached the final climb, Quintana attacks again and opens a big gap!

The break explodes again, and van Aert is totally dropped!

The break closes the gap to Quintana.

Woods takes the front.

Bizarrely, Quintana is suddenly getting dropped!

Gaudu attacks!

He looks pretty good and only two riders, Valverde and Kuss, seem able to react.

Back in the GC group, Ineos still leads as they tackle the early slopes of this final climb.

And now in the break, the American Sepp Kuss attacks!

He’s looking awesome!

Behind him, the breakaway is in tatters!

Kuss grows his lead! He’s had a lousy Tour so far but perhaps that changes today! Yeeeeaaaah, boyeeeee! He has four kilometers to go on the climb! He’s knocking out a blistering pace! ‘Mer’ca!

Back in the GC group it’s just Ineos, Ineos, Ineos.

Geraint Thomas detonates. So does Steven Kruijswijk (Team Jumbo-Visma), who had once been considered an outside favorite for a strong GC finish.

Kuss’s lead is coming down a bit. Valverde is all alone trying to bring him back.

The GC group has reconsolidated. Kelderman takes the front.

Ben O’Connor attacks the GC group! He’s sixth on GC, had been in second after his stage victory, and looks pretty good though the gap isn’t opening up. It’s odd … he’s been yo-yo’ing off the back of the GC group today but keeps coming back. I wonder what happened to Ineos?!

O’Connor is caught. Now Pogacar takes the front … not for any tactical reason whatsoever, but simply because he can.

Now Vengegaard attacks!

Only four riders are able to respond, but the way Vengegaard keeps looking back, he’s clearly not committed.

Up ahead, Kuss holds his lead as he nears the summit, but doesn’t extend it. He may well need more than 26 seconds on Valverde since there’s a 15-kilometer final descent before the finish.

Back in the GC group, Vengegaard attacks again. I’m not using an exclamation point here because his attacks aren’t hard enough. Why not save it all up for a single powerful attack? I know, I know … armchair general here. Anyway, it’s worth noting that Vengegaard looks like that kid in Home Alone.

Kuss takes the summit with a 24-second lead. I hope he’s feeling ballsy today.

In the GC group, Rigoberto Uran (Team EF-Education First-Nippo) attacks! As solid a rider as he is, this almost never happens!

Pogacar is on him pretty much instantly.

Carapaz counters! Finally!

But nobody can shake Pogacar so it just keeps coming back together. You can tell by the width of this group that everyone has just sat up.

O’Connor attacks again but of course it’s useless because he never looks ahead—always behind.

Kuss bombs the descent. His gap is coming down a bit but basically holding? I think …?

Pogacar attacks over the summit, just to show everyone it’s hopeless.

I’m defecating bricks. Valverde is an expert bike handler and very wily, and I could totally see him catching Kuss. But, so far, he’s not closing it up. Kuss was a mountain biker, remember … so he can descend well. That’s what I keep telling myself, of course.

In the GC group, van Aert is helping out Vengegaard. I guess he dropped back for him.

Kuss has just 3.6 kilometers to go! GO, MAN, GO!

I am so pumped! This isn’t just patriotism, mind you. I have to respect Valverde’s racing, but at the same time he’s a filthy doper. So this is a morality play. Kuss goes under the 1KM kite!

Under half a K! No sign of Valverde!

Here it is! KUSS HAS GOT THE WIN! He throws his sunglasses to the crowd! Nice move … the crowds love him and I didn’t care for his sunglasses.

What an amazing finish! I hope Kuss isn’t disqualified for littering. He could argue that his $200 sunglasses aren’t litter, I suppose. And now Valverde crosses the line, defeated, having been unable to touch Kuss on the descent.

Van Aert leads in the GC group. Vingegaard gives a little one-handed victory salute, which is really weird. I mean, he failed to make up any ground on Pogacar, after all. Maybe he’s just stoked to preserve his fourth place. Or did he make up enough time on Martin to get on the virtual podium? Could be … Martin is still out on the road, who knows how far back!

Valverde congratulates Kuss. I have to admit, I kind of have to appreciate Valverde even if he’s a doper (did I mention that already?).

OMG. Guillaume Martin is only just finishing now. He’s lost minutes after letting that gap open up on the descent. What a disaster. He needs to take some descending lessons from Kuss.

Now they’re interviewing Kuss.

INTERVIEWER: So, anything to say for yourself?

KUSS: To be honest I was suffering a lot in this Tour so far. I didn’t have the spice in the legs.

INTERVIEWER: What does that mean, “spice in the legs.” That’s not a thing.

KUSS: What do you mean? It’s totally a thing.

INTERVIEWER [after looking up phrase on smartphone and showing it to Kuss]: Look, I just googled it, bitch. “Spice in the legs” is not a thing. You’re tryin’ to make it a thing!

KUSS: Okay, fine. You’re right, it’s not an expression. I’m sorry, all right? I’m a bit brain-dead and emotional and that just came out.

INTERVIEWER: You won a Tour stage but that does not make you an influencer.

KUSS: Got it.

INTERVIEWER: Did today’s stage go to plan?

KUSS: I knew today’s route, it finishes where I live and I was really motivated for the stage. I had the legs, and my girlfriend and her family were on the climb, which meant a lot to me.

INTERVIEWER: Dude, she sounds hot.

KUSS: This interview is over.

Here is the stage result. Looks like Quintana clawed his way back to the lead chase group.

And here is the new GC.

And now Chris Froome (Israel Start-up Nation) crosses the line, only 23 minutes down. This is a great result for him because he TOTALLY SUCKS now. I’m not going to chalk it up to his terrible accident and injury as that was years ago. He’s just not on the kind Ineos lube anymore. You can hate me if you want.

Here’s Sepp Kuss on the podium, celebrating his first-ever Tour stage win! I see his sunglasses have already been replaced. That’d be nice, to be sponsored like that. And TO WIN A MOUNTAIN STAGE OF THE FREAKIN’ TOUR! Woohoo! ‘Mer’ca!

Woods lost the KOM jersey today. Here is the new leader, Wouter Poels, on the podium. There’s something a bit fishy here. No, I’m not just talking about the eerily strong performances of everyone on Bahrain-Victorious, including their domestiques. I’m talking about how Poels’ head seems to be Photoshopped onto his neck here. Doesn’t he look weird?

Van Aert accepts today’s Combativity award. We have this category in my family, too, but it’s not a laudatory label. It’s more like an accusation, and alas, I’m quite capable of mixing it up with my teenagers in this realm. But at least I don’t own any unripe-tomato-red suits like this podium guy doofus.

And now we see Cavendish crossing the line with his teammates, safely within the time cut. Really, the remaining Pyrenees are likely the only obstacle left to him taking the green jersey all the way to Paris.

Well, I guess there’s almost no way Pogacar can lose this Tour. His main risk is that by making his so-called competitors look like such chumps, he’ll disgrace the race to the point that nobody will care about it anymore. Look how ridiculously comfortable he looked today:

Next weekend is a time trial and the parade into Paris, both of which will be mainly boring, so this’ll be my last blow-by-blow until the Vuelta. Long live King Kuss!

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