Saturday, July 16, 2022

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2022 Tour de France Stage 14


I like to give a blow-by-blow report of major bike races, but so far none of the weekend stages of this year’s Tour de France have been the exciting mountain stages I favor. Today’s isn’t a very promising course either, but with my weekdays taken by The Man, I’m down to covering either this or the final time trial, which would bore both of us to tears. Read on anyway … at some point I’ll recap what’s happened so far in the GC battle, which has been pretty awesome. And who knows, maybe all hell will break loose today.

2022 Tour de France Stage 14 – Saint Étienne to Mende

As I join the action, there is a breakaway that has about ten minutes on the GC peloton, with about 70 kilometers to go. They’re interviewing Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ).

INTERVIEWER: Est-ce que la route est difficile aujord-hui?

PINOT: Je voidrai avoir du biftek-frites.

INTERVIEWER: Ah, je comprends, ce n’est pas un sujet facile, oui.

PINOT: Et une salade, bien entendu!

INTERVIEWER: Votre équipe, ils sont prête pour la chaleur?

PINOT: Et et un verre de vin, bien sûr!

Wow, things are off to a rough start. First of all, the Peacock network is blocking my ability to grab screen snapshots. That photo above? It was a lot better on my screen, believe me. You’ll just have to imagine what Pinot looks like. I’ll help sketch it out: he’s wearing the red, white, and blue colors of his team (the “livery,” these pompous announcers would call it). His COVID mask is white cloth …not nearly as effective as a KN95 (or “NC-17” as I like to call it), but then we all know that, descents notwithstanding, Pinot is a rider who likes to take risks.

The other thing making things rough is that the announcers, Nicolas Roche and Anthony somebody, made no effort to translate, from the French, anything Pinot and the interviewer were saying. Do I have to do everything myself? Here’s my best crack at it:

INTERVIEWER: Is the route difficult today?

PINOT: I would like to have the steak and fries.

INTERVIEWER: Ah, I get it, this isn’t an easy subject, sure.

PINOT: And a salad, better yet!

INTERVIEWER: Your team, are you guys ready for the heat?

PINOT: It’s been a lousy Tour for me and I’m frankly embarrassed, after all the fuss the press made over me in my early years, and then that horrible 2019 Tour when it looked like I had such a great shot at the GC, only to drop out with an injured leg, for chrissakes, and now I’m not even the team’s protected rider. I mean, it’s so frustrating: if you give a dog a good name maybe he lives up to it, but I’ve been treated like a shit domestique and have “become my job,” as they say.

Here’s a nice shot of the action.

Do you like my co-commentator, Freya? She’s good company, but even quieter than Sean Kelly.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) is off the back with his team helping him. He’s had a really awful Tour—yesterday he crashed pretty hard, which is unfortunately the most noteworthy thing he’s done in the last week and a half.

With 66 kilometers to go, the gap to the break is up to 10:42.

Now the leaders are on a climb, the Côte de Grandrieu, 6.3 kilometers at 4.1%. Within the breakaway group, the highest-placed rider on GC is Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), who sits 13th overall, 15:46 back. Also in the group are Neilson Powless and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-EasyPost), Bauke Mollema and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Danny Martinez (Ineos Granadiers), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), Pinot, and Simon Geschke (Cofidis), who leads the King of the Mountains competition.

Riders are getting ready for the KOM sprint. And here they go! Geschke (Cofidis) easily takes the maximum points, pulling away from Simmons. Since I can’t provide a photo, I’ll describe it. Geschke’s jersey is white with red polka-dots. Both riders were out of the saddle, grimacing. They both have big bushy beards. This is a great Tour for big beards. I can probably find a stock photo somewhere. Ah, here you go:

Now Simmons attacks! His American compatriot Powless is trying to bridge across to him! ‘Mur’ca! And now Powless has caught Simmons! Will they share the workload? Not so far, Powless is just sitting on. Maybe he and Simmons have political differences.

They’re climbing again and Simmons is just drilling it! He takes a quick look back, peering under his arm, to see what the group is doing. Either that or he’s sniffing his armpit. Maybe that’s how he gauges his effort—how much sweat he’s putting out, or how strong its smell is. Who needs a power meter? Okay, the group has got him.

Now Matthews attacks. He quickly gets a decent gap but with 52 kilometers to go he’ll obviously need at least a couple dudes to bridge up to him. Wow, he’s really flying, and already has 23 seconds.

Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal) attacks the break and Simmons is right on him. With his big red beard, Simmons looks a lot like that kind of scary-looking spokesman for the Howard Johnson motel chain.

The breakaway is completely shattered! At the front is Matthews, and just few seconds behind him is the trio of Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Kron, and Luis Leon Sanchez (Bahrain-Victorious). And now they’ve got Matthews. Which is actually good for him, like I said.

I just had a little breakaway of my own (bio-breakaway, you might call it) and upon my return, the leaders are on the penultimate climb, the Côte de la Fage, 4.2 km at 6%. It looks like Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) has joined the leaders, and Konrad has fallen off.

I want to take a moment to decry something I see throughout cycling coverage: Großschartner’s name is rendered “Grossschartner.” That’s right, three S’s. How does that ß become two S’s? Of course the announcers don’t want to even try to pronounce it, it’d sound like they’re hissing, so they never mention this actually very fast rider. So unfair for him. Maybe he should take the celebrity route and change his last name to something easy and attractive, like “Strong.”

Weird: with one kilometer left in the climb, Kron takes a musette bag (or “horsey-bag” as my college girlfriend liked to call it). Maybe the bag is full of helium gas. Is that allowed?

Back in the chase group, Uran attacks! The whole group starts swarming and boiling and it looks really painful. “They’re spitting like llamas!” the announcer says. Or does he mean lamas? Do lamas spit? I’m gonna guess he means llamas. It’s impossible to know since it’s just a strange thing to say. (Note: I do tend to put words in people’s mouths, as I did with Pinot earlier. But the announcer really did say that about the spitting. I couldn’t make that up.)

Alberto Bettiol, Uran’s EF teammate, takes the front and does a long pull.

And now Soler attacks over the top of the climb! He quickly opens a pretty big gap. He’s done almost nothing this whole Tour except to chase down a Jumbo-Visma move a few days back (more on this in a moment). Then he faded back to total pack-filler anonymity again.

The scattered constellation of the breakaway is forming little clumps, like that modern kitty litter that turns feline urine into hard, snowball-sized spheres. You won’t get similes like this from professional journalists.

Whoa, Kron gets a front puncture and almost goes down! They show an instant replay so I’m able to get a photo of it with my phone! See how he’s unclipped from his left pedal? Look closely and you can see me in the photo, reflected on the laptop screen! It’s very artistic!

I guess I can start providing photos, since my phone camera is doing a better-than-nothing job here. Can you believe I pay for this coverage, that doesn’t even let me do screen grabs?

I’ve been hoping things would settle down a bit at the front of the race so I could bring you up to speed on this Tour, in case you haven’t been following it. There’s a pretty long descent before the brutal final climb, so maybe I finally have my chance.

It’s been a pretty great GC battle, actually. Pogacar initially looked too dominant, as usual, winning two stages in a row and taking the yellow jersey, but then on Wednesday during stage 11, Team Jumbo-Visma really got their act together. At the summit of the second big climb of the day, the category one Col du Télégraphe, Primoz Roglic totally attacked, and in the ensuing mêlée, Pogacar was totally isolated from his UEA Team Emirates team. On the valley floor before starting the famed Col du Galibier, Jonas Vingegaard and Roglic took turns attacking Pogacar. It was a lather-rinse-repeat scenario, and Pogacar, seeming to get frustrated, launched an attack of his own, which struck me as hubris. It’s like, dude, you’re already expending all this energy responding to these attacks … why would you do extra work? So on the final climb, Vingegaard launched a blistering attack and took almost three minutes out of Pogacar. Pogacar finished the race covered in blisters. Really? Blisters? Well, no, that was just the logical extension of “blistering attack.” Weird word, “blistering.” But that’s the kind of Tour it’s been.

And now Roglic is dropped. This is the second time today that’s happened; he lost over three minutes earlier, and only caught back on when the breakaway was well established and the peloton started really loafing. Roglic crashed hard during an early stage on the cobbles, and dislocated his shoulder. He was able to pop it back in, but that had to hurt … maybe he’s still suffering from that.

So, what else from the first half of this Tour? Oh year, Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) has been the man, taking top three in at least three stages, wearing the yellow jersey for a few days, winning a stage, and being the most amazing super-domestique I’ve seen in years. And in other news, Pogacar’s fiancée was seen after Wednesday’s stage rocking a RUN-DMC T-shirt. I’m not sure what to make of this but it’s surely important. You’ll have to turn to a more mainstream journalistic source for the full story on that, I just don’t have the time to chase it down.

Poor Kron never got back into the front group, so it’s down to three riders. They’ve still got 37 seconds.

Back in the peloton, van Aert is setting a high tempo at the front, and the group is thinning out. Whoa, Thomas Pidcock (Ineos Granadiers) goes out the back! He was sitting like 8th on GC, after winning Thursday’s stage solo atop the famous Alpe d’Huez. But I guess the pace can’t be that high because the gap to the break is up over 13 minutes.

Here’s a nice (albeit lo-res) shot of the final climb profile. It looks like an absolute beast.

The climb’s official name is the Côte de la Croix Neuve, but it’s nicknamed the Montée Jalabert because Jalabert won there once. What’s that all about? I mean, every stage finish has had some winner, so why does Jalabert get this climb named after him? Pretty damn silly if you ask me. I’m going to try to get my own teammates to start calling Lomas Cantadas the Montée Albert (with my name pronounced “Al-BAAAYR” of course). Not because I’ve ever “won” it or anything, but because I might be the only cyclist to write a poem about it, or at least the only one to write a poem in dactylic trimeter about it.

And now the leading trio has started the Montée Jalabert.

Matthews attacks!

He’s got a really huge gap on this brutal section! It’s like 14% and he’s crushing it! But suddenly Bettiol closes up the gap with a quickness!

I gotta be honest, I don’t even remember Bettiol being in this group. He must have bridged up when I wasn’t looking. Hell, he probably bridged up when nobody was looking. That Bettiol is a sly one! And now he’s got Matthews under serious pressure! Bettiol has to drop him on the climb because there’s no way he could beat him in the sprint. And here it is, Bettiol drops Matthews, with just over a kilometer left in the climb!

Matthews hangs his head in the universal gesture for “FML.” In a second here the announcer, as if following a script, will use the expression “lights have gone out,” which metaphor is the darling of announcers these days. But wait! The announcer says no such thing! And now Matthews lifts his head up and accelerates!

He’s closing the gap! OMG! Matthews has got Bettiol!

And now Matthews attacks!

And Matthews crests the climb alone! It’s just 1.5 kilometers to the finish, mostly downhill and flat!

Matthews has got the win! He does the popular “I can’t believe it” victory salute!

Bettiol comes through looking a bit shocked. Actually, I made that up. You can’t read anyone’s expression anymore, what with the giant sunglasses.

“Pinot comes in dirt,” Roche says. I don’t know why he can’t pronounce “third.” I mean, he’s Irish. Can’t they make the “th” sound? And the “d” sound, for crying out loud?

But the real race is behind, where the GC group has just reached the Montée Jalabert. The American Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo Visma) sets tempo for his leader.

Kuss was brilliant on the Alpe d’Huez climb, protecting Vingegaard’s yellow jersey by setting the fastest pace of anyone that day. And now Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) takes the front for Pogacar. ‘Mur’ca!

Top riders are going out the back! And now Pogacar attacks! Only Vingegaard can hang with him!

Romain Bardet (Team DSM), who sits fourth on GC, chases the Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates. Thomas is third on GC, just nine seconds ahead of Bardet, and Yates sits fifth, 51 seconds behind him. Right on Bardet are David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic).

(As usual, Yates has done absolutely nothing during this Tour except follow wheels. Thomas has attacked exactly one time, when Pogacar was in difficulty on Stage 11, and that was admittedly a perfect move that actually worked.)

Pogacar won’t turn his head to see how Vingo is doing behind him. Perhaps Pogacar realizes this craning of the neck might reduce his airflow. Kind of smart, actually.

Vingo looks cool as a cake. You thought I was gonna say cucumber, didn’t you?

The two have got over half a minute on Thomas and Yates already.

Here’s a helpful schematic labeling the riders and giving their speeds.

Curious, isn’t it, that while the riders are still together, Pogacar is going 20 km/h and yet Vingegaard is only doing 16 km/h? That’s how you know Pogacar is doping. Fortunately, that speed delta isn’t making any difference in the race (which, I know, defies the laws of physics).

And amidst the throng of unruly spectators, Gaudu has passed the Ineos duo!

The GC leaders cross the summit. As you can see, behind them Gaudu has taken six seconds out of Thomas.

And now Thomas and Quintana reach the summit. Quintana is having a pretty good Tour, sitting sixth on GC.

Nearing the finish, Pogacar launches a big-ass sprint, foolishly supposing that a) he could actually ride Vingo off his wheel, despite being if anything the weaker of the two right now, and that b) even if he got a gap, he could extend it to anything meaningful. I think he’s just like a dog with a stick … Pogacar can’t help it. He sees a finish line, he sprints. It’s automatic.

At the finish are throngs of Danish fans, singing “Vingego” over and over again in a silly singsong voice. Won’t they feel stupid when they discover later that they spelled “DENMARK” wrong on their banner…

They’re interviewing Matthews. “They” being “the media,” not the Danish fans. Just to be clear.

INTERVIEWER: It’s been years since your last Tour stage win, and now you’ve pulled one off. Tell us about it.

MATTHEWS: This win was for my daughter. She’s four years old and I wanted to show her: this is what I do it for.

INTERVIEWER: Are you sure she was even watching? She might have been at a play date or something.

MATTHEWS: No, I told my family they should probably tune in for once in their lives because our team was aiming to do something this weekend.

INTERVIEWER: How did you win it? What was going through your head?

MATTHEWS: On that last climb I was just thinking of my daughter, and how I needed to make good on all the sacrifices my family makes for me.

INTERVIEWER: Let’s be real here. What four-year-old has ever made any sacrifice for anybody? What would that even look like?


INTERVIEWER: That tattoo on your neck .. it says “believe”? Can you tell me about that?

MATTHEWS: I think it speaks for itself.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, but it’s spelled wrong. It’s supposed to be “i-e-v-e” but it’s “e-i-v-e” on there.

MATTHEWS: Oh my god. You’ve got to be shitting me.

INTERVIEWER: Punked! Got you! Hahahahaha!

MATTHEWS: Tadej warned me about you. This interview is over.

Here’s Matthews on the podium. His outstretched arms, tilted back head, and closed eyes would say “apotheosis” except that his dumb baseball cap drowns that out by saying “long haul trucker.” How did American baseball caps infiltrate the European peloton? How has the UCI not banned this?!

Caleb Ewan makes it through the finish well in advance of the time cut. What a relief for him and his team.

Here’s the stage result.

And here is the new GC. The main change here is that Meintjes moves way up in the GC … he wasn’t even top-10 before and now he’s tied for 7th.

And now, the yellow jersey presentation.

Vingegaard must be stoked to get another stuffed lion. During his first yellow jersey podium ceremony, on Wednesday, he looked his new lion right in the eye, smiling, as if to say, “Hey, you!” Vingegaard has a young child who will of course want a lion, and Vingo will want one for himself; fortunately, he now has four of them.

Wout van Aert gets his green jersey. He’s so far ahead in this competition, all he has to do is finish the Tour and he’ll keep it. There’s a lot to like about van Aert, including the fact that he’s the only rider in this Tour who remembers to throw his flowers to the crowd. And he’s got a hell of an arm, especially for a cyclist!

They’re interviewing Vingegaard.

INTERVIEWER: You looked pretty comfortable out there today.

VINGEGAARD: Yes, I ride a superb Fizik saddle, and of course the chamois in my Agu shorts is pretty plush.

INTERVIEWER: No, I mean comfortable with the pace.

VINGEGAARD: Oh yeah, that. Yes, it was good.

INTERVIEWER: There were a lot of Danish fans at the finish. That must have been really special for you.

VINGEGAARD: Honestly, what do you expect me to say? That they’re a bunch of dorks or something? That they can’t even spell?

INTERVIEWER: Whoa, easy there big fella.

VINGEGAARD: Sorry, that was out of line. There’s a bit of pressure that comes with this yellow jersey, you know.

INTERVIEWER: And it’s probably not made any easier by bloggers totally making shit up and putting words in your mouth.

VINGEGAARD: Don’t even get me started.

Now Geschke mounts the podium, having successfully defended his KOM jersey. He looks a bit like a hipster with that beard. However you may feel about this from a sartorial perspective, I think we can all agree it’s unprofessional, given the COVID risk. It’s well established that COVID masks don’t work well on bearded men (or women, come to think of it), and no fewer than seven riders have dropped out of this Tour due to COVID. Geschke should shave that beard, as a precaution.

Meintjes takes the podium for the Combatif (i.e., most aggressive) award.

He’s the only rider who bothered to get himself cleaned up and changed for the awards ceremony. I guess he didn’t realize it’s actually important to wear your team cycling costume for this presentation. I have the same struggle with the high school mountain bike racers I coach, who always want to wear some cool skateboarding t-shirt or whatever instead of the Cougars jersey.

It has just been brought to my attention that a) Matthews won the Combatif award today, not Meintjes, and b) this guy on the podium can’t be Meintjes, as he looks too old and soft to be a bike racer. I have no idea who he is, what he’s doing here, or where he got that medal. I guess security is really light at the Tour and he’s just some rando, clowning around.

Well, that’s about it for today. There are several hard mountain stages left, including the Col d’Aubisque and Hautacam on Thursday, but I’ll be working my day job and can’t report. Check back next month when I (hope to) cover the Vuelta a España!

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