Yesterday was a “rest day” in the Tour de France. I put that in quotes because, although they weren’t riding a stage Monday, on Sunday night they flew to Perigueux, and yesterday they would hardly lay about and binge watch reality TV (well, maybe Taylor Phinney, who seems a little Bill and Ted). Most cyclists rode yesterday – if they didn’t, they’ll hurt today. [Later: They just reported that Contador didn’t train yesterday and concluded that he was in a lot of pain yesterday.]
A very flat sprint stage, 110.6 miles long, with just two Category 4 hills, one before the intermediate sprint point, and the second 25KM from the finish. At 3K, there are two sharp bends; then there are another two sharp bends just before the finish – with the road narrowing on both of the last two turns. This means there may be some elbows in the peloton as the GC contenders try to stay in front of any crashes, at the same time that the sprinters are contesting the finish. Apparently there’s also some road furniture mixed up in there that they’ll need to dodge around. This could be a tricky finish.
The yellow jersey strategy for today is just to stay safe and conserve energy for Thursday, when they hit the mountains again.
There are two men off the front by about 4 minutes, both French – you’ll often see riders from the same country working together, even if they’re on different teams. One riders is from Circus and the other from FDJ, who needs the camera time since their leader was eliminated on Sunday based on time, along with the three domestiques who were helping them. Apparently the FDJ riders decided they would ride to keep their sprinter — who is the French national champion — in the race and not for their GC contender, Thibaut Pinot, who isn’t riding very well.
In the peloton, a couple of the sprint teams have one man each at the front, followed by Team Sky. The pace looks somewhat high, but they’re really just keeping the breakaway reasonably close – no more of this 10-minute gap like the other day. When the gap gets that high, the sprint teams get worn out chasing them down and can’t form their usual train for the finish.
There was just a shot of the peloton lined up by team, with the only jumble of teams at the back. I have rarely seen it like that and, in the next shot, the pack was in the usual mixture. That organized shot was in a small town – perhaps they chose that moment for some kind of unwritten ceremony for that town. There are a lot of unwritten rules in the peloton.
Marcel Kittel’s team is wearing aerodynamic helmets today, a sign, Phil and Paul say, that indicates that Quick Step is going all out for the win today.
The breakaway is now 5 minutes in front, there are three or four different teams leading the pace at the front of the peloton but they’re not riding quickly.
Reflections on Sunday
They just showed that Dan Martin had a really slow wheel change after Sunday’s crash with Porte. This time it was neutral support that slowed the change (neutral support is provided by the Tour organizers and you see it come into use mostly in the mountains when the roads are narrow and the team cars can’t move forward to help very quickly). The wheel that neutral support gave Martin was too small for his brake pads, which caused him another crash later, hence his disappointing finish time.
The former riders on the broadcast team are discussing the challenge of Sunday’s downhill and whether it was too difficult to include in the tour. They agree that it’s the rider’s and the team’s job to prepare for the course, riding it ahead of time or viewing video so that they’re familiar with the turns. In this case, the race organizer also organizes some of the earlier one-day races of the season, and included this downhill in one of the most prestigious of those races. So there was plenty of time to ride the route beforehand, and even race it.
60.8 miles and the two leaders are still in front by 4:42, the peloton still stretched in a long single-file line. These long sprint stages can be boring – the tactics of the announcers is to try to keep you entertained with tour gossip, inflated debates about Sagan, Aru’s attack on Froome while Froome had a mechanical. You also see a lot of beautiful shots of sunflowers, castles, and the tour-themed performance art that the fans build by the side of the road. They dress cows in different colored jerseys, use hay-bales to build giant bicycles or recreate the French flag or maps of France, all of which leads to animated discussions about the delicacies of the local regions. Earlier they showed the museum at Lascaux.
Now they are questioning the tactics of the sprint teams. Three or four teams have put domestiques on the front of the peloton, which doesn’t make sense because they should want Kittel’s team to do all the work and be exhausted when they arrive at the finish. By working on the front of the peloton, they are helping Kittel’s team to be stronger on the finish. One of the commentators just said he spoke to Kittel’s team, Quick Step, who said they didn’t ask for any help, the other teams just pitched in. He then spoke to one of the sprint teams who are helping, and they said they want to bring the break back so they have a chance to win.
53.2 miles now and the peloton has reduced the gap to 3:33. The peloton has sped up and entered the feeding station, where they pick up lunch on the wing although, oddly, I don’t see anyone grabbing musette bags – ah, they must have grabbed them while we were on commercial, because they’ve slowed up a little, eating, drinking, and gossiping. They just showed one of the riders in the break taking lunch from his team car, which tells me they didn’t slow down to snatch food from a helper at the side of the road.
Three miles later, the peloton has reduced the lead to 3:02 but they just showed the leaders on the first cat 4 climb; so perhaps the “mountain” slowed them down. The hill has a castle and a town on the top of it and the riders are climbing through crowds of the town, makes for a little different ride than most of the mountains which are so rural. On the high peaks the Tour closes the road a few days ahead of time and the most hard-core fans arrive before that and camp out – drinking – until the tour arrives. Other fans hike or bike up the hill just ahead of the tour. There are few crowd barriers and the people spill onto the roads almost clogging them entirely.
Now the commentators are talking about Aru and Fuglsang’s tactics yesterday. Before the race started, Chris Froome had said that Sunday’s stage would be the hardest stage and Bardet, a GC contender, was out in front in the break. So one tactic would have been to make Froome chase Bardet down, and not help him in any way by taking the lead so he can draft. Instead, the Astana tactic was to have Fuglsang and Aru work together to move up in the standings and try to take the stage – which, unfortunately, helped Froome by dragging him to the finish line, where he earned a 4-second time bonus.
35.4 miles and the breakway just went through the intermediate sprint point. They didn’t contest it – they’re taking turns, with one of them taking the cash bonus associated with the mountain-tops and the other taking the cash associated with the intermediate sprint. But there are sprint points for the top 10 riders across the line; so the sprint teams in the peloton are lining up to contest them and take some more points.
Michael Matthews and Kittel, Kristof, and Andre Greipel all contested it – and Greipel was first across the line. Kittel sat up at the last minute because Greipel is far enough down in the sprint point standings to not endanger Kittel’s green jersey. Matthews finished seventh, with one of Greipel’s domestiques placing before him – a tactic for keeping a competitor from picking up points. That little acceleration cut the breakaway’s lead to 2:49.
Lotto-Jumbo is not helping the other sprinters – Robert Gesink crashed out and the team is down by so many riders that they can’t spare any of them to help earlier in the stage and still have enough to lead out their leader for the final sprint. Dimension Data said they are in the same way; they also offered the perspective that the reason that the other sprint teams are helping on the front is to send a message to their sprinters that they believe in their ability to beat Kittel.
At the top of the last climb of the day, about 24 miles from the finish, the peloton is 2:03 back. The peloton has slowed and is riding in a pack. A Sky rider pulled ahead of the peloton and took two huge musette bags full of bottles for the team.
The two breakaway riders are racing down the descent, crouched on their top bars, 38 MPH, trying to take as much time as they can before the peloton crests the summit. They secured another 28 seconds when the peloton crested the hill, but a few minutes later, the peloton has eaten that 28 seconds back. Now that they’re over the last climb, they’ll probably start to reel the breakaway in.
16.8 miles to the finish and the peloton has cut the gap to 58 seconds and, in the time it took me to type that sentence, they cut it another 4 seconds – they’re really moving now. The leaders are riding at 20 MPH, the main field at about 25 MPH.
The peloton almost caught the break, but then they slowed down a little and the gap is back up to just under a minute. This prevents other riders from breaking away and disrupting the sprint team’s finish line tactics. They’ve been working hard the whole day and don’t want to give any of the non-sprint teams a chance to take the finish and make all their hard work for naught.
8 miles out, and the breakaway has 21 seconds. They’re into the town now and the peloton is getting glimpses of the two riders in front. Now they’re on a long straightaway and the peloton is pulling themselves up to the break; it’s down to 17 seconds.
The teams are lining up at the front of the field now. Sprinters like Lotto, but also Astana and Sky to keep their GC contenders safe. Now Sky is back on the front – they are racing to protect Froome from a crash.
The two riders at the front just shook hands and sat up at 4.3 miles. They’re done for the day, got some cash bonuses to share with their teammates, and a lot of free press for their sponsors.
Now the peloton is lining up by team: Bora-Hansgrohe, Sky, Lotto-Soudal, Katusha, Direct-Energie. The speeds are up to 35/36 MPH.
Lotto was leading on the right, then Katusha came up the left side to contest. The road is narrowing, pushing the trains together. All the trains are fighting to be in front, accelerating, and dodging the lead-out riders as they pull off from the front, job done. Now the speeds are up to 39 MPH. Bahrain has moved to the front. Boasson Hagen is trying to get through without a train. The pack has really shrunk, with everyone who isn’t contesting drifting back. These last two turns are really tight but no crashes.
Marcel Kittel, sans train, surged forward from about six places back after the last turn and took the win.
All the jerseys stay on the same shoulders today.
Spell-check is doing some interesting things. It catches some obscure typos like Fuglsang (I should have listened to it on Sunday) but still hasn’t acknowledged Froome as a real word. Fascinating…