Taking stock after the first week

Friday, 8 July 2011

A few thoughts on who is up and who is down after the first week…

Alberto Contador
First up, it is safe to say things are not going to plan for Alberto Contador. He got booed last Saturday but like I said a week ago, he’d been avoiding the French media and whilst this was ugly, he missed a trick to get the public on side with some TV appearances before the race. At the least he could have started his opening press conference with a “fact pack” for the media.

Image and presentation aside, the real story was his time loss on the opening stage. Scanning the media during the week I couldn’t help notice a few headlines saying he might have lost the Tour de France and to this day bookmakers have been adjusting his odds. Now Andy Shleck is narrowly the favourite to win with the bookmakers.

After the fall

After Stage 1?

For me it’s a bit like a stockmarket panic. The headlines are full of drama: “crash”, “meltdown”, “billions of dollars wiped off the value of stocks”. Yet when the markets go up, there’s rarely the matching headline of “melt up” or “billions wiped on the value of stocks”. The business pages and sports pages of a newspaper share the aspect that someone or something is constantly up or down but in reality Contador’s loss so far is small. There are many mountain stages to come and it’s quite possible that a couple of trade mark attacks put him in the lead. We’ll see, we won’t know until the Pyrenees arrive.

Crash
Stockmarkets have crashes just like riders. Several contenders for the race have gone already, with Bradley Wiggins crashing out today as has Janez Brajkovic and even outsider Christophe Kern. It’s all sad to see, because we want to see drama and action but not of this sort. There are videos on youtube of “best crashes” and people sometimes laugh at certain riders and teams but for me it’s rarely entertaining.

That said there was a moment when Cofidis’s David Moncoutié braked hard to avoid a crash and came to a stop alongside others who’d just avoided the same crash, only to find Moncoutié falling sideways and they went down like dominoes. Nobody was harmed so you can look back and chuckle if you want.

Tom Boonen left the race but he was never quite this week, I was expecting him to enjoy the varied finishes a bit more given he’s no longer contesting the pure sprints.

Garmin podium

Garmin get the GPS co-ordinates for the podium

Garmin-Cervélo
Two stage wins and the yellow jersey for several days, the team could quit the race tomorrow and hail the race a total success. One of the best things with the team is the obvious joy in winning, sometimes crossing the line first is about more than “being professional” or “doing the job well”, it’s a dream come true and you could sense the enjoyment and pride in the team.

Plus if I had to pick a rider of the week, perhaps it’s Thor Hushovd. His spell in yellow was sealed by using the big ring up to Mûr-de-Bretagne and we saw him give Tyler Farrar a stage-winning leadout.

Missing in action?
It’s early but I’ve hardly seen Katusha in the race. Liquigas are very visible thanks to the lime green but they seem to pop up and guard Ivan Basso at certain moments before vanishing. Talking of bright kit, if it wasn’t for Adriano Malori’s move yesterday I’d have almost missed Lampre-ISD. This isn’t meant in mockery, just an observation, perhaps things will change this week.

The best week?
More broadly it’s been an exciting first week. Riders might be worried about safety and some of the sprinters complain about the lack of flat “boulevard” finishes but few viewers will complain too much, especially those who lived through the 1990s and the forumula of first week = sprints.

Yes every breakaway gets reeled in but the varied terrain before the finish line has provided plenty of excitement. Whisper it but once the race hits the mountains it’s possible the overall classification takes shape too quickly and the excitement fades a bit. We’re not there yet and here’s hoping things continue. Vive le tour!

Andy Turnbull July 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Intermediate sprints – the shake up in the points competition rules has had a big effect this year, and a positive one in my opinion. The sprinter’s teams have had to work twice per stage, and changed the whole dynamic of the ‘flat’ stages. It’s been fascinating to watch the green jersey changing hands, sometimes quite late in the evening… Speaking of which the heavy-handed commissaires have spoiled things a little.

David B July 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Excellent overview. I’ve enjoyed this week immensely, it’s just a shame to have lost the likes of Boonen & Wiggins.

ColoradoGoat July 8, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Interesting enough, the one rider who so far seems to have had the Tour go even better than planned has been Cadel Evans. Aside from riding a very, very smart race (hey – what a novel concept, stay at the front!), he beat Contador in a photo-finish, which can only help him and his confidence.

I am not yet sold that Schleck has the form. Maybe his tour prep was specifically requiring him to hold back, but if recent pre-Tour prep races were any sign, I would say Frank seems the brother in better form. But again – sometimes training is so dialed in, that he was required to hold back.

Jim D July 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm

What’s with all the bike tosses. All I know is they must be really crummy bikes if the likes of Contador and Gesnick sp are throwing them in the ditch. I’ll certainly look at other bike brands before Spec. or giant because it doesn’t seem like they are very good bikes if they just throw them away. If I am going to spend many K on a bike, I want it to be respected and liked by the pro’s on that bike. I am surprised that they can get away with that. Jim

El Gato de La Cala July 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Following app. 75 riders & DS´s on Twitter (and the notorious inrng not to be forgotten, though he sometimes fights keeping his feelings under the normal control when twitting – must be a former/present bike rider!?) during the 2011 TDF, has been this years revelation in terms of cycling coverage.

The TV transmissions still ranks above all, but twits has now come second sending (old)news-papers even longer away in the dark. Reading the instant tweets immediately after the stages sometimes makes me wonder if some of the young guys, no name mentioned – no names forgotten, has chosen the wrong career or simply are suffering due to poor, or non media training what so ever. You are professional bike racers – not stock brokers, and should behave, act and accept your roles like that. After watching the first week of the TDF there seems to be some disorder in the peloton and a serious lack of a Patron to call out when enough is enough. Anarchism maybe, but come high mountains come order in the ranks.

As Davis Millar says: “yellow should be treated respectfully, but maybe I´m just an old fashioned guy”.

cthulhu July 9, 2011 at 12:23 am

Talking about being under the radar, Klöden is being nearly invisible but in a good sense unlike his unlucky team mates. Seems like Radioshack has it’s captain now.

And I totally agree with the stock market analogy. Unfortunately those emotional (over-?)reactions ’cause a lot of damage at the markets, let’s see how these affect Contador. But I guess he is not as fragile as the markets.

beth July 9, 2011 at 12:30 am

I hadn’t realized quite what was missing until El Gato de La Cala pointed it out: the peloton desperately needs a patron. There’s a lot of finger-pointing and complaining, but they don’t have anyone legitimate to go to with their anger, demands, frustrations. I thought I’d never see anything like the first 4 stages of last year’s Tour. For carnage and controversy both. Whether people agreed with his actions or not, Cancellara saw a need and took on the temporary role of patron. He was in the yellow jersey which helped. And he has a rather simplistic way of looking at things like “massacres”, so he cashed in on a lot of goodwill to seize control when the stage had degenerated into chaos.
Today wasn’t a lot different, but the remnants of the peloton drilled on up the road. They all finish the race and then go to the media with their accusations against each other. It isn’t edifying. They should all get together and have a meeting or something, maybe the DS’s or something. The riders seem to be the only ones who can fix this, and something is definitely broken. I am sick of hearing everyone just say, oh well, that’s bike racing.

ColoradoGoat July 9, 2011 at 1:27 am

Why are we assuming that the crashes occurring are anything more than just happenstance? Accidents in races happen, and the wind has played a big role in these stages so far. Add to that wet weather, some technical finishes, and some interesting steep finishes result in these outcomes.

El Gato – I am curious what a Patron would do save for telling these guys to stop publicly complaining about the races. What was Millar referring to? That somehow people should give position to the yellow jersey?

Gillis July 9, 2011 at 4:33 am

I’m with Jim D…what’s with all the bike tosses? It shows disrespect to the equipment, the sponsor and the sport. I lose all respect for a rider when I see that. If they can’t keep their cool in the heat of the moment then maybe they should rethink their line of work.

I can still remember Bjarne Riis’ famous bike throw – his prototype Pinarello TT bike – in the ’97 Tour.

Jeff Hagen July 9, 2011 at 5:38 am

After the first week, I’d like to see them get a better handle on concussions. Can’t believe Boonen and Horner were allowed to continue the stage, much less the race. If they’d fallen again… U.S. football has struggled with this, but recently put in place fairly strict rules about returning to a game.

Cyclingnews (http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/pro-cycling-plagued-by-head-injuries) has story on it, but letting teams decide whether rider can continue clearly can’t work, and I’m not sure even race doctors are brave enough to put a rider off the TdF.

Ankush July 9, 2011 at 7:48 am

This is the most bizarre opening week of the Tour, so many crashes. These guys are not new to such sidewinds or wet weather (I remember the havoc in Tour of Qatar due to sidewinds but not a single crash) but it’s just that there’s too much nervousness in the peloton. Everyone wants to be at the front and on narrow roads it’s causing problems. I agree with people here that with a patron who can maintain some order, things will be less chaotic.

The single intermediate sprint and uphill finishes has made the first week very interesting and whipped up our appetite for the upcoming mountains in Alps and Pyrenees. This has been the best start of a Tour for Cadel and I hope he can finish wearing the maillot jaune in Paris.

El Gato de La Cala July 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

@ColoradoGoat; groups without leadership or even only basic rules to be followed sometimes leads to anarchism, and the present peloton seems to lack logic leadership potential – or lack of interest in the “job” by the very few possible candidates. Even Hooligans have rules and leadership to be followed! (Just read a book about the phenomena). If for instant, Cadel Evans stepped forward and started acting like a patron (just an example) he would get the attention all way round and maybe – I say maybe – this could put a cork in the bullshit bottle from where all the post race excuses trying to justify top selfish behaviour comes from. But seen in the light of recent TDF history, who wants to be a parton? And for Cadel, well placed and on good form, why should he use more energy on a role that might put unwanted spotlight on his person.

As of the David Millar quote, he noted that Thor Hushovd literally had to fight his way through the peloton wearing yellow the first day, being shown NO respect at all. Even small guys locked the door! So, if the mutual respect in the peloton as for the race is gone – it leaves only the pay check back to fight for. It´s become all about the money. (Stockbrokers on two wheels)..

Come mountains – come order!

Anonymous July 9, 2011 at 9:56 am

I don’t mind the bike tossing. We have all these expectations of professionals, but they’re human. Imagine the pressure Contador has been under. I suspect most people would crack under similar pressure at some point, especially when you take into account the bad luck he’s been having at the Tour. Gesink crashed a few times before rolling his bike. This is the biggest race of the year for these guys. They push themselves all year and then shit goes wrong over and over in the main event. I assume that to be a successful competitor, many have to maintain a fine edge. Sometimes the proper threshold is breached.

Andy Raff July 10, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Phew, what a weekend.

I hope you are planning a rest day roundabout for the TdF.
My head is spinning from all the action.

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