I sometimes get up really early in the morning to give you live coverage of bicycle races in Europe. But it’s not really live coverage because you don’t read it until much later, if at all. But it’s as close as I can get. And unless you’re paying for Peacock Plus (slogan: “We have almost zero subscribers”), perhaps this is as close as you’ll get, too.
This stage race is like the dorky little brother of the Tour de France, and I should know, having three cool older brothers. We don’t have all the top Tour contenders here, but perhaps half of them, including the Dauphiné’s current GC race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo-Visma).
So, here’s a funny chat transcript from yesterday:
(Is there still a lot of doping in the peloton? You may have noticed my last few blow-by-blow reports haven’t mentioned it much. The answer is, I can’t tell … and that’s a good thing. It means either the sport has actually cleaned up, or at doping isn’t completely dictating the outcomes as it did in the salad days of the obvious doper Chris Froome and his ultra-dopy Team Sky.)
As I join the action, the riders have about 35 kilometers to go, which means they’re on the penultimate climb, the Col du Mollard, which is a beast at 18.5 km (11.5 miles) long. So what does “Mollard” mean? Well, Google Translate says it’s the “populaire et vulgare” way of saying “crachat épais,” which means “thick spit.” I love that. Some rider of yesteryear must have been slogging his way up the climb, hacking up all kinds of gross sputum, and said something like, “Zut alors, c’est le col du mollard!”
This climb is considered “Hors Categorie,” aka “HC,” or “beyond category” in cycling’s odd parlance. This is exactly like saying an amp goes up to 11. I mean, why not just make the hardest climbs Cat 1?
They keep showing footage of this kind of stout guy, and I can’t figure out why. Okay, I guess that’s not fair, no pro cyclist is stout, per se (as they all have single-digit body fat percentages). Let’s say he’s stocky, more like a sprinter or rouleur, not the sort who wins mountain stages, and yet he's solo, and mugging for the camera, so surely he's off the back.
So why keep showing him? Is he the cameraman’s nephew? Or is he some Internet influencer? Ah, as it turns out, this fellow, Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Dstny) is inexplicably off the front, solo. On a day like this? After they’ve already gone over the HC Col de la Madeleine? Maybe the breakaway had like 30 minutes at one point, who knows. Anyway, this guy has less than a two minute lead, so he’s doomed, unless he’s just an amazing doper.
Team Jumbo-Visma has things in the GC group well in hand, as you can imagine. Here’s one of Vingegaard’s henchman at the front, trying to pick some nut out of his teeth. Nuts should be disallowed in energy bars, and in ice cream as well. There. I said it.
They’re talking about Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen Team), who sits second overall on GC, 1:10 behind Vingegaard. The commentator says he spoke with AG2R’s coach who says, “Ben is really a pleasure to coach. He’s a bit simple.” Ouch. I guess it’s possible he said “it’s a bit simple,” but nobody says that, right? And actually, with these race radios, a rider who unthinkingly does exactly what he’s told might be just the ticket.
Here’s a fun fact: while you’ll hear commentators call Vingegaard “Vingego,” which sounds like a nickname, that’s actually just the supposed pronunciation of his name. I looked this up on Reddit and someone wrote, “Dane here: I think the closest would be something like ‘Yo-nas Ving-eh-gore’ - where ‘yo’ is not like in rap but rather like in ion and ‘nas’ is like in the rapper name…” This guy, being familiar with rap, obviously knows his stuff, so it could be that the professional commentators (or “incompetators” as I like to call them) have this wrong.
I don’t know what direction they’re coming at the Col de la Croix de Fer from. I have actually raced up this climb (click here for details) and it’s an absolute beast, normally classed as an HC, but I think these guys are only doing the top half as it’s being called a Cat 1. You know what? Pro cyclists are so much stronger, they should have a different categorization scheme than what’s used with rank amateurs. For a guy like me to tackle an HC, it should be called an HHHC.
Okay, I get it, you’d like to know what’s going on in the actual race. Well, the rest of the breakaway has now been absorbed by the adult diaper of the GC group. (You won’t get metaphors like this in traditional broadcasts.) And Campenaerts, with about a kilometer left to the summit of this Col du Mollard, has less than a minute of his lead remaining. He’s doomed.
As Campenaerts crosses the summit he gives a little mini-victory-salute. I’ve never seen this before, but it makes sense … he sure won’t be crossing the finish line in first. But he now has the virtual lead in the KOM competition, which he might even keep if he doesn’t get totally shelled on the final summit. But then, how could he not? He’s built like a damn Sumo wrestler! (I mean, relatively speaking.)
“Jumbo-Visma, in those yellow-and-black jerseys,” the announcer points out, sincerely trying to be helpful. This announcer is really not very good. His voice is just a bit on the lugubrious side. Plus, he seems to free-associate about whatever he feels like, which—look, I know what you’re thinking, I do the same thing. But I’m just an unpaid blogger!
Jumbo-Visma is still totally in control of the GC group.
So anyway, getting back to the announcer, he keeps talking about Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) who—get this—isn’t even riding the Dauphiné! I mean, hell, I’m better at staying on track than that. And to even mention Démare without calling him a lying, cheating scumbag is just unprofessional (click here for details).
So now, with a dozen kilometers to go, the GC group catches Campenaerts. They don’t even give him so much as a nod as they swarm him. It’s like the motorcyclists who zoom around me in the Berkeley hills … they make it very clear that there’s no kinship between our two-wheeled cohorts. I’m just some douche who travels by his own power. Laaame!
Now Campenaerts is jettisoned off the back. I don’t know how I feel about that. I guess based on his totally goofy handlebar and brake lever position (see above), he probably deserves it. I mean, have some dignity, would you please?
As the racers descend toward the base of the final climb, the announcer starts talking about bike gearing, prompted by some nice work by the cameraman.
As somebody who likes to blather on about this topic myself, I ought to be stoked. But this announcer and others have been going on and on about it lately, due to the single front chainring setup that Vingegaard and others have been using. During this year’s Giro d’Italia Sean Kelly, my favorite announcer, erroneously described the benefit as being a tighter gear range, which is exactly the opposite of the truth. But this announcer is actually saying some interesting stuff. He (or somebody) asked Vingegaard why he used the one-by the other day, and got an interesting answer: the lighter setup means a rider can use his more aerodynamic bike (which normally would be heavier due to the extra carbon fiber that makes it aero) and still be right at the minimum weight limit. But for a day like today where tighter gear ratios are needed, riders like Vingegaard are back on their traditional double chainwheel setup.
HEY! WAKE UP! The race is still going, you know. Don’t be like my wife, who once said to me, “Don’t ever talk to me about bike gearing again.”
The riders have 8 km to go, all murderously uphill.
So here’s what’s happened so far in this stage race. Nobody really stood out in terms of GC until Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates) won the Stage 4 31.1 km time trial 12 seconds ahead of Vingegaard. Bjerg was almost in tears afterward, for some reason. I mean, wouldn’t he be happy? Weird. Anyway, Bjerg crashed the next day at the base of a big climb and never caught back up, and meanwhile Vingegaard solo’d to victory. (Is that how you spell solo’d? Aw, who cares about spelling?)
Wow, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) goes out the back! He had nominally been considered a contender here. And now Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorius) is dropped. Probably very few people remember this, but Landa used to be kind of fast.
Getting back to the GC recap, Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) won a stage with great flair, and sits third on GC, only 13 seconds behind O’Connor. In fourth is the ever-present but never-attacking Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates), just three seconds behind Alaphilippe, with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounding out the top five, another 11 seconds back. Pretty tight GC except for Vingegaard.
Some guy named Attila attacks the already reduced GC group and immediately gets a huge gap. Ah, it’s Attila Valter of Team Jumbo-Visma, in some randomly colored jersey, champion of Hungaria or something. And just as quickly, Vingegaard pulls him back. WTF?
Oh, right, it’s like an alley-oop, as Vingegaard attacks!
Only Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) can respond, and only kind of! The group is shattered!
Alaphilippe goes out the back, along with former Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Granadiers), who has so-so form after coming back from a horrific injury early last year.
Gosh, it’s a great attack, but when a rider is this dominant, the race can become kind of boring. It’s like a rom-com where you know exactly what’s going to happen so why bother watching? Especially when it’s a PG-13 rom-com. I guess bike racing is rated G, unless two riders get in a fistfight which is rare, or use foul language which is not as rare but not exactly exciting either.
Yates has lost almost 30 seconds. He’ll move into second overall but no higher than that, obviously.
O’Connor is next on the road, chasing after Yates. I mean, I guess technically he’s going after Vingegaard too, but I doubt he’s delusional. The Dane has simply outclassed everyone.
Further back, or should I say farther back, Hindley drops O’Connor. This could change the GC a bit, but we’re talking about lower podium places in a fairly minor race. Like, who cares?
You might have noticed how crappy my photos are. That’s because Peacock Plus won’t let me get screen grabs. Because, you know, every time somebody gets a screen grab, God kills a kitten. Anyway, since I’m snapping photos with my phone anyway, I’ll use some nifty features. Here’s a GIF of Vingegaard:
And by contrast, look how much slower Yates is going.
They’re not showing Vingegaard’s time gap because what difference does it make? Two solo stage wins? Nobody can touch him.
Vingegaard is in the final kilometer. And what’s this? Something exciting! A spectator, or perhaps just a hobo, has fallen backward and is sprawled on the ground! And he’s not wearing any pants!
Okay, looking more closely at that still photo (remember, I’m seeing this all in live motion so it’s harder to make everything out), I see that it’s just somebody lying on the ground to get a cool photo, and he’s wearing flesh-colored shorts, which is a poor sartorial choice but certainly not alarming. Sorry to get your hopes up that this stage would have an exciting finish.
Vingegaard takes the win, and look, this is arrogant: he affects a yawn as he crosses the line, as if to say, “Yeah, another day, another win.”
Speaking of yawning, it’s not even 6 a.m. yet!
Yates cruises over the line, 41 seconds back.
Hindley rolls through. Of course I tried to get a photo showing his face, but what can I do? The man is shattered. His head is down.
O’Connor finishes, and I have to say, he did a great job, digging deep to limit his loss to Hindley to just 11 seconds.
Here’s the stage result:
And here’s the new GC:
O’Connor managed to hold on to his podium spot, at least for now.
With most of the peloton still out on the road, they present Vingegaard with his medal for the stage win. The only notable thing to see here is that ASO, the race organizers, are very gradually trying to reintroduce podium girls to the awards ceremony tradition. Surely ratings have tumbled since the olden days, when they had beautiful women in tight dresses actually kissing the winners (albeit only on the cheek, generally). This practice has been abandoned, and for a brief, dark period only poorly dressed, dumpy, middle-aged men were allowed anywhere near the podium. Then they let a woman back on the stage, but kind of in the background, wearing an extremely conservative pantsuit. So this is a big step forward, or perhaps backward, allowing a woman in a skirt, with bare arms, to be here. (Microsoft Word is suggesting I change “bare” to “bear,” because this is America, home of guns.)
And now Vingegaard collects another yellow jersey. Look at him kissing his biceps … so totally arrogant.
And now the race leader is interviewed.
INTERVIEWER: You must be happy to win the stage and extend your GC lead.
VINGEGAARD: Well, duh.
INTERVIEWER: How and why and when did you attack … was that pure instinct?
VINGEGAARD: The last climb was getting steep and we decided to have Attila go full gas to make it really hard and then I would attack when they couldn’t go anymore and luckily I was able to go alone. But the race isn’t over, I could still get COVID or something. So yeah, tomorrow we’ll see how I feel, whether I have a fever or a dry, rattling cough, maybe a loss of sense of smell, that would indicate that I could be vulnerable, because I mean come on, we saw what happened to [Remco] Evenepoel in the Giro.
INTERVIEWER: Are you now at your peak?
VINGEGAARD: Yes, of course, every defending Tour [de France] champ stupidly peaks for the Dauphiné three weeks ahead of the Tour, so he’s totally flat there and rides disgracefully. What do you think?
INTERVIEWER: I had heard you were a nice guy, but in fact you’re hopelessly arrogant.
VINGEGAARD: No, I’m not actually arrogant. In fact I’m kind of faux-modest and boring, but certain bloggers obviously take liberties when transcribing these interviews. Though in this case your stupid question about whether I am peaking right now was rendered accurately, believe it or not.
Next they interviewing Max Poole (Team DSM), who now wears the white jersey of best young rider.
POOLE: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER (after an awkward silence): I like your hat.
POOLE: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of this relatively new tradition of bike racers wearing a ball cap, like a damn American, instead of a proper Euro-style cycling cap?
POOLE: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
INTERVIEWER: You know, a cycling cap. It’s, uh, smaller, doesn’t come as far down the head, and has a fairly small bill. So you could wear it under a helmet, if you needed to, like if you were bald and didn’t want really weird tan lines from your helmet vents?
POOLE: Are you saying I’m balding?
INTERVIEWER: No, no, you’re super young! That’s not what I meant at all!
INTERVIEWER: So if you hang on to this jersey through tomorrow’s final stage, are you goin’ to Disneyland?
POOLE: What the hell is Disneyland?
Campenaerts receives his polka-dot jersey. Look at that moustache. If he were American, he’d be into monster trucks, not cycling.
Now they’re interviewing Campenaerts.
INTERVIEWER: You must be satisfied.
CAMPENAERTS: I am very happy with my shape.
INTERVIEWER: Your shape is actually odd for a KOM leader. I mean your build. You’re not that spindly. Most climbers are weedy and gaunt. You’ve been called “stout.”
CAMPENAERTS: I prefer “husky” or “stocky.”
INTERVIEWER: Yes, of course, that’s better. In fact, I would go so far as to say “strapping.”
CAMPENAERTS: Are you hitting on me?
INTERVIEWER (winks): No, of course not, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.
CAMPENAERTS: Yes, I’m going to really suffer.
INTERVIEWER: You ride for the Team Lotto Dstny. Dstny, with no “e” or “i.” What’s with the weird spelling?
CAMPENAERTS: Well, as you know, vowels have to be purchased. Our sponsor faced some budget cuts.
Well, that’s about it. Tomorrow’s last stage is also mountainous, with six categorized climbs including an HC and two Cat 1s, but it finishes with a 17 kilometer descent and no rider seems capable of challenging Vingegaard right now. Don’t look for a report on this blog.
So … you think the Vingster will be rocking a COVID mask between now and then?