Highlights of 2011 – Part III

Monday, 12 December 2011

Five moments from 2011. They are a personal choice like any list sometimes you omit more than you include but I’ll explain each moment. They’re presented in no particular order.

Here, a double header: Stage 18 and Stage 19 of the Tour de France. I could cover each stage as a separate highlight but that means I’d have to drop something else from the year so a tandem highlight…

Stage 18 of the Tour de France saw something special: a contender for the yellow jersey launching a long range attack.

I found the whole 2011 Tour de France great. The first week’s uphill finishes provided variety, although the crashes were a negative aspect. But the race for the yellow jersey was, as usual, quite defensive. On the first real mountain stage, up to Luz Ardiden, we saw the favourites watch each other. The same happened up to the Plateau de Beille. Fans were annoyed but the riders had little choice, if you are contender then taking big risks with early attacks… is risky. As they say you might not win the race on a stage but you can certainly lose it.

If caution is rational, it’s not popular and one rider in particular was getting plenty of criticism: Andy Schleck, especially since he lost time during the downhill run in to Gap.

But things all changed on Stage 18. The race crossed back to France via the giant Col d’Agnel, topping at 2,744 metres. Then they went over the Izoard and here Andy Schleck attacked. He went solo, chasing down a breakaway up the road and then reaching the Col du Lautaret and its infamous headwind with the remnants of the move. He had some help from two team mates and Quick Step’s Dries Devenyns was pulling hard but in time Andy Schleck went away and then went on to the mightly Galibier where he won the stage.

Andy Schleck’s move was fantastic but what happened behind decided the Tour de France too. Behind the chase was on but not organised. If the headwind was hard for Andy Schleck, the same defensive rationale that dogged earlier stages was at play again. None of the leaders wanted to chase for fear of using up their energy in the service of a rival. It was not until 11km to go that Cadel Evans hit the front, “taking his responsibilities” as they say in French. His work started to shell the remaining riders out of the group. As they hit the Galibier the likes of Samuel Sanchez and Tom Danielson were dropped. With the select group led by Evans almost all the way in time even Alberto Contador dropped off and if that was not surprising enough, as they went up the final ramps of this tough climb Thomas Voeckler was still there, his yellow jersey golden on the cloudy peak and safe by just 15 seconds.

For me this was the day Evans won the Tour de France. His work kept the Luxembourg climber in check, meaning he was easy to overhaul in the final time trial. But Andy Schleck gave it his best and took a fine win. High drama.

Stage 19


If Stage 18 provided 90 minutes of action with viewers perched on the rivet of their sofas, Stage 19 took things to another level. ASO had been experimenting with stages and this final Alpine stage was short, a 110km ride from Modane to Alpe-d’Huez. But the Galibier stood in the way.

The stage started downhill and the pace was as lively as the white water river alongside the road when 14 riders got away, it looked like we were set for a long breakaway trying to hold off the leaders on the final climb. The riders were to climb the Galibier via its harder side, using the Col de Télégraphe. It was on the steep early ramps of this that Alberto Contador attacked. There were 92km remaining.

What followed was electrifying television. First Andy Schleck jumped across, soon joined by his brother Frank. Then Cadel Evans bridged across. The gap began to grow and then Thomas Voeckler went, cranking a big gear out of the saddle. But Contador jumped again, shattering the select group again. Soon Voeckler couldn’t follow and Cadel Evans had a mechanical problem, forcing him to stop twice. If the previous day’s move by Andy Schleck was bold, this was even more audacious.

The move didn’t stick but it ended Voeckler’s time in yellow. His energy ran out after chasing Contador and he being paced by his team mates up the final slopes of the Galibier and at one point shouting at the top of his voice for Anthony Charteau to slow down. “Chartix, Chartix” he screamed, his knees pointing outwards like an old man. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse, Voeckler was set to lose the race.

Up front the race took the long descent to Bourg d’Oisans and Pierre Rolland clipped off the front. As they started the climb to Alpe d’Huez, Contador attacked and built up a lead. Soon Samuel Sanchez tried to bridge across and joined by Pierre Rolland of Europcar. Rolland had things all in his favour, he needed only to follow because he couldn’t help Contador take time on Voeckler. But Rolland didn’t just sit there, on the final 10% ramp he deployed the big ring and ride Contador and Sanchez off his wheel to win the stage and take the white jersey.

It was a thrilling finish to the stage and provided something for everyone. Viewers got action all stage long. ASO’s “sprint” format for the stage worked. Contador tried again and again, putting the boos and hisses of his reception in the Tour presentation three weeks prior well behind. Cadel Evans played it smart, deploying his forces where it was needed and containing the Schlecks. And if they lost yellow, Europcar took a big stage and the white jersey.

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{ 23 comments }

TomC December 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

These two stages really were excellent racing with high drama throughout, the best that TdF racing can be. Hopefully the Tour will stay with the shorter alpine stages that allow audacious attacks due to their relative brevity. A 240km alpine stage is impressive (a la giro) but they seem to usually be reduced to a war of attrition where strength and endurance are the only way to win and there is little place for tactics, it is simply too long.

Larry T. December 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

I started paying serious attention to LeTour in the mid-80′s so maybe it’s because I’m old, but 2011′s Grand Boucle didn’t do much for me in the excitement/interest category. I’m happy Evans finally won the thing but the Tour seems to be raced more “not to lose” than to win these days. TV’s Heckyl (or is he Jeckyl?) remarked elsewhere that he thought it was the most exciting since 1989….maybe it was…but to me that illustrates just how unexciting LeTour often is.

TomH December 12, 2011 at 10:54 am

Your piece makes me want to watch the stages all over again. Stages 18 and 19 are what a Grand Tour should be about. The stalemate in 18 was impressive, but so was the pace in 19. Everyone started out with their guns drawn. Perfect viewing for some indoortraining, does anyone have a television review for this years Tour de France?

SlapshotJC December 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

I’m really not a fan of Andy Schleck but he really played the best possible card that day, Evans’ was superb as well though and did everything he had to do even putting more time into Alberto. The Friday stage was even better, with nothing to lose the true battling charactaristics of the real champions of our sport Contador attacked so so far out, the “for fun” comment at the end from Contador was the icing on the cake.

It was remarkable to watch and showed just how good a GT can be when the chief protagonists have to attack each other. We had three brilliant GTs this year for differing reasons, the domination of Contador in Italy and the battles in France and in Spain, I hope that 2012 offers us something similar.

However with the new Team RadioSchleck Andy won’t get that freedom, Bruyneel will have him on a tight tight rein where ever he rides and this will destroy the potential there is for pure racing in 2012, wherever in the year that may be.

benDE December 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

You should go away more often!! The items since your departure have been great! In oppostition to Larry T I have to say that it is maybe that I am still young that I found the whole season of 2011 so great. Could I just be coming into my best years as a cycling fan? Anyway, like you stated above, those couple of days in the Alps were just chaos and a pleasure to watch.

Jeff December 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

The Tour can be boring, heck it is three weeks long. But I found 2011 wa a great edition. It took a while to get going on the GC side but reviewing this makes me realise just how big these long range attacks were.

Kasper December 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm

You almost said it youself. But the best moment (for me) was certainly the time when Evans realised that no one was going to help him, and he rode Galibier several minutes faster than A. Schleck.

bikecellar December 12, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Do you know what the best thing is about the Tour De France? Well for me it is the fact that it is an annual event, unlike the other “big” events World Cup (soccer) and Olympics, so if you get one year that does not come up to your expectations there is another one 49 wks later. apologies to fans of motor sport, tennis, golf, etc’ etc’ but for me the three I have named are the big three. :)

ave December 12, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Wow, what a revelation to hear Voeckler’s screaming! I remember the situation, but without this blog I would never knew if it was him screaming, and what was he screaming. I love this blog!

Darren December 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I agree with Kasper! Also felt that Cadel’s ITT was simply awesome, could not stay seated watching, bouncing around the room, as I felt that Cadel deserved the yellow jersey far more than Andy, who I think is a bit one-dimensional (climbing) while Cadel is a lot more well-rounded/diverse!

Cool to see Voeckler lose his cool! Remember reading an article in a Belgian newspaper during the 2nd week of the tour where one rider in the peleton refered to Voeckler as an actor, often feigning tiredness and messing other riders around, then suddenly jumping around like the energizer bunny! Doesn’t seem to have that many friends in the peloton! And then of course you get all these articles in the French press praising him like he walks on water!!!

Andy Raff December 12, 2011 at 11:21 pm

A factor which made the TdF for me this year was how I was able to view it.

In the UK if you don’t have access to satellite and Eurosport then you used to only have Channel 4′s highlights package. These were good, but as InrRng is always saying so much can happen all through the race: it’s difficult to condense this in to 20min (or less) of highlights.

ITV were broadcasting live several hours per day on many stages this year.

With the power of the Digibox I was able to record and watch loads of stages practically in full in the evening. (avoiding all internet cycling/sport sites during the day).

I actually watched Stage 18 late Friday night, Stage 19 Saturday morning and the TT stage live.
Intense!

This, for me, was a real revelation and it has helped sustain memories of this year’s edition.

(I was able to enjoy La Vuelta in a similar fashion)

Roll on 2012!!!!!!
More of the same please.

slim jim December 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm

My favourite part of Stage 19 was seeing Evans with the Schleck brothers half way up the final climb; Andy looks toward Cadel and appears to suggest he help them out; Cadel shakes his head. Andy says something again; Cadel shakes his head.

As an Aussie and an avid fan of Evans; having watched Voeckler et al get towed up the mountain the previous day it was nice to see him in the drivers seat.

Andy Raff December 12, 2011 at 11:28 pm

@ Darren

I remember Flecha being p!ssed off at Voeckler after the crash which knocked Flecha out the contest for the stage & Hoogerland into the barbed wire.

Flecha was not surprised that V had stepped on the gas, as he always pulling stunts like that.

If I remember right there were some serious crashes further back up the road, with Vino taking a hard tumble, along with a few other GC riders. And if memory serves the peloton took a really long time to get their collective sh!t together and Tommy just pushed on, taking advantage of a quasi-neutralized chasing group. Voeckler defended the jersey with real courage once he was in it, but I have a feeling his time in yellow could and should have been a lot shorter.

Mind you, if my aunty had baws she’d be my uncle…

Patrick December 12, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Two days that made it one of the best tours for years…

TotheBillyoh December 13, 2011 at 3:12 am

Each year the TDF exhausts me, in my lounge chair. I am cycled out, what with the marathon of constant 2am finishes. Then I see clips like this and I start to get excited again. Good highlights, thanks. I cannot hear too many claiming Cadel as a “wheelsucker” after this ride? Voeckler is enigmatic: Gallic, in good and bad ways? Vive la France! Vive le Tour!

diamondjim December 13, 2011 at 6:32 am

Stage 18 was a highlight for me too. Watching Cuddles take responsibility, and dropping Berty in the process was inspiring. Great tactics too from Leotard Schleck (the old ‘team mates up the road’ trick), but fair play to Andy for taking what was probably the last real roll of the dice he could make.

I wonder how much Leotard paid Drevenyns to pull for them…

Steve Wilson December 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I agree with your assessment of these stages. It seems to me though that Andy Schleck races without much fire or passion. Almost like his preparation is half-hearted and then he gets mentally beat by himself during the races. He had a gutsy move in the 2011 TDF though so my hat was off to him on that stage. He deserved that win but seemed to fizzle from there.

http://hillsandheadwinds.blogspot.com/2011/12/stupid-little-rock.html

Chromatic Dramatic December 14, 2011 at 1:54 am

This was my highlight for the year.

Having seen Evans take charge of his own destiny, and ride ride ride ride like a man possessed (and to be clearly the better rider), was simply awesome. Especially after I thought he had cracked when he was having his mechanicals.

Ian December 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Great picks.

Reminded me of Evan’s “mechanical”, still not sure about that. If memory serves there appeared to be absolutely nothing wrong with the bike. As you say he stopped a couple of times as if trying to convince himself (and everyone watching both the public and rivals?) that something was wrong, “look I’m spinning the rear wheel it’s rubbing…honest”!

Meanwhile the peloton draws closer with every stop until he takes the then logical option to return to it. Something Voeckler decided not to do when he lost contact, which arguably cost him a podium place in Paris.

I do wonder whether Evan’s and the team assessed the situation, and came up with a quick, acceptable way to play the percentages and return to the better bet of the peloton, rather than waste energy on such a risky venture.

Now admittedly it would have required some quick thinking and it is a bit far fetched but I still just wonder…is it just me?

This in no way is a criticism of Evan’s, whom I am a fan of and, who in my opinion, was very deserving of the win – gutsy and calculated in equal measure at the key times.

Chromatic Dramatic December 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Ian,

if what you’re saying is true…. I’d say that was incredibly gutsy, and would put him in the lucky category for it to have worked.

I can’t see it as being a deliberate strategy. He still had to work his guts out, and he could have easily just sat on the tail of other riders in the group to conserve himself anyway.

Ian December 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Yeah, he could have just sat on in the front group, unless of course he was genuinely suffering for some reason at that particular moment in time and didn’t want to get caught in no-mans land like Voeckler did so came up with a savy way to get back in the pack quickly.

You’re right though it is unlikely or even, as I said, far fetched. Just something about watching it at the time didn’t look quite right.

LFX December 19, 2011 at 7:37 am

I’d been puzzling over the same thing, and the only thing that makes sense to me (and i’ve heard it whispered), was that the frame was cracked, which would explain why when he got off it and spun the wheels it seemed OK but under his bodyweight was rubbing somewhere. Obviously BMC would prefer that on their shining days in the sun, the brand would get such a negative image.
Either way once Cadel got the new bike he was very good up the Alpe, so in the overall scheme it doesn’t matter, but it has been nagging me. I’d love to know the full story.

Ian December 19, 2011 at 10:44 am

Thanks for the interesting theory LFX, not just me then! Like you say, in the grand scheme of things not important, as Cadel single handedly steam rolled the end of the stage, but I have to fill the off season with some cycling related thoughts.

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