Highlights of 2013 – Part III

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

tour de france crosswinds

An obvious pick, Stage 13 of the Tour de France was the day the OPQS and Belkin teams shredded the bunch in the crosswinds. With hindsight it how a hotel booking can alter a race too.

We’ll get to hindsight in a minute but I’d picked the second week of the Tour as its most dull point and went as far as identifying Stage 13 as the most uninspiring stage of the race. It was flat and rolled past endless cereal fields. Even on the day the weather forecast didn’t offer much to get excited about. But strange things can happen in a hotel.

The Hotel Cheops, Conspiracy Central

By chance OPQS and Belkin were given the same hotel for the night before the stage and they cooked up a plan to exploit the crosswinds on the day. History suggests Dutch and Belgian teams master crosswinds like no other but the extra element comes from the conspiracy. It’s rare to find a sport where teams can conspire in an attempt to fix the outcome of an event. It’s illegal in most sports. But cycling’s different, when two riders break away they collaborate in order to cheat both wind and rivals alike. The events on Stage 13 took things an extra step with a premeditated tactical conspiracy but that’s not new, it’s been done many times before.

A plan is one thing, execution another. On the day it wasn’t that windy but OPQS and Belkin just about made it work. Better still it happened from far out. At first it looked dubious but Marcel Kittel was caught out, in part thanks to a mechanical and so OPQS had an incentive to stick at it in order to help Mark Cavendish. There were other losers, for example Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikkel Nieve and Igor Anton plus Ag2r’s Romain Bardet. But the scenario changed when Valverde got problems with his rear wheel. This set off a series of errors that often compound to mark turn a hiccup into a disaster. The rear wheel change took time, Valverde then ordered help and the chase back was panicky, riders tasked with pacing were burned up like booster rockets yet unable to shuttle their leader back to the lead. Still, we need to be careful with the criticism, Valverde was seeing his GC hopes go up in smoke and it was make or break time.

In the end the day’s result is almost forgotten. Mark Cavendish won the stage, perhaps a clue that he can win a big classic one day but also testimony to the action.

Why the highlight?
Exciting racing in itself but the tactical genesis is an interesting prelude and the stage had aftershocks that lasted well through the race for example it propelled Bauke Mollema up the GC and arguably Rui Costa’s support of Valverde gave him the space to go hunting for two stage wins later in the race. Proof that even the Tour de France, the sport’s most choreographed competition, can surprise when you least expect it.

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{ 28 comments }

Matt Carey December 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm

On that stage THE rider was Michael Rogers, and how he marshalled that front splinter group. Saxo put their cards on the table, dropped Froome and went for it. Very Old School. Cav put out pretty much his top watts just to grab the back of the line as it went, otherwise he was missing the chance. With cab in the group no-one was thinking about the win, only the time gains.

Ablindeye December 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm

If I remember correctly Mick Rogers was also integral for my second most memorable split in the Tour too. The one in 2009 documented in the Chasing Legends documentary, which also ended in a Cavendish win. More of the same next year please Mick!

Andrew Simpson December 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm

guess this post came a bit early in the day. bad times.

Bundle December 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

No way. Rogers is a native English-speaker, not a a despicable mediterranean cheat with fraud in his genes.

Francisco December 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Your thought processes seem a bit … idiosyncratic.

Ablindeye December 18, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I guess commenter’s curse works in a similar way to commentators curse…

spudgun December 18, 2013 at 7:42 pm

OT, but holy cow, just announced that Michael Rogers tested positive for clenbutrol!!

Wow…

Stephen_M December 19, 2013 at 11:03 am

Holy cow? Are you surprised? My only surprise is that it took so long to happen.

Sheldon-san December 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

A pedantic observation – I thought Cav had already won big with the Milan San Remo, I am sure you meant another monument win in either France or Belgium.

I agree, it was a cracking stage to watch.

Al__S December 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Quite. If Milan – San Remo isn’t big (not to mention the Worlds as well!) then I’m not sure what is.

The Inner Ring December 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Agreed, I meant a big Flemish classic with crosswinds and climbs, think the Tour of Flanders or Gent-Wevelgem. He was close in G-W this year, just missing the split.

Ronan December 18, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Interesting point on Cav’s sprint to make the break is that he apparently got a big helping hand (push) from Kwiatkowski to bridge across. Unsurprisingly, Cav is not so keen on mentioning this.

Adam December 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

You mean other than when Cav said in his post race interview, “”I nearly missed the final split. Kwiatkowski got me half way across.”
You can not like Cav, but don’t pile on criticism where it’s not due. By all accounts his team mates really respect him.

Ronan December 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

“Got me across” is not saying ” I was struggling to bridge and my teammate gave me push to get over”. “Got me across” implies a kind of lead out, which is not what happened. I’m not saying he didn’t credit his teammate, he just didn’t credit him for what actually happened.

LM December 19, 2013 at 3:58 am

Cav may not have invented the art of praising ones teammates, but he has polished it to perfection. I remember when almost everyone was down on him for his outspoken nature; hasn’t he become a once in a lifetime sportsman and competitor?

Yavlinskiy December 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

A great day of sport. Also impressive to see Quintana in the front group.

Mats December 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Gosh… I had this stage crossed over with red as too predictable and uninteresting. I’m still kicking myself.

PedalCan December 18, 2013 at 8:51 pm

A great stage indeed – one I only finally caught up with on youtube recently. The echelons and playing out of the various interests (stage, GC, team) were fascinating. But re: Saxo driving the break, too bad I’m now wondering if Alberto shared some of his special “steak” with Rogers the night before… sigh.

Peter December 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm

The moment Froome was about to drop, looking behind for a teammate and usimg his radio… amazing.

Anonymous December 19, 2013 at 10:37 am

He should have jumped and dare I say it offered a little excitement to the mix.

Andy Logan December 19, 2013 at 2:47 am

Easily the highlight of the Tour, I remember sitting down to watch the stage thinking another flat stage, but was waiting for my baby daughter to wake up to feed in the evening (Sydney time) next thing I know the stage is blowing up.

I stayed up that night, was pretty broken the following morning but awesome stage.

Dan December 19, 2013 at 7:44 am

This was the stage we chose to see live this year! Despite INRNG’s misgivings we wanted to be at the finish to see a full-throttle bunch sprint. It was quite difficult to figure out the race and only really pieced the day together afterwards, but there’s nothing like seeing Cav head up the field and go past our spot (50m from the line, we’re just to the side of that picture!) with his hands in the air! Cav was buzzing after the race, but Froome was understandably less jubilant…

Anonymous December 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

Few highlights in this years Tour. It was dull with a dull winner.

Jason December 20, 2013 at 2:50 am

Oh come on. Orica Green Edge bus stuck at the finish line. Now that was exciting.

Dai Bank December 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Yeah K got Cav halfway across and the hand-sling from K took Cav the rest of the way.Cav wasn’t 2005 Madison World Champion for nothing lol. Read a comment from K in one of the UK comics telling of the hand-sling.
This was the best stage at the Tour since the last TdF cobbles stage IMHO.

Smiled a bit at the commenter’s curse reference above, no doubt other people are going suitably nuts on some Forums at the moment…

garuda December 20, 2013 at 3:41 am

First on Froome:
If Cav wasn’t the dude in front of him when the split happened, he likely would have been able to hitch a ride across or the split (first group and second group) never would have materialized because Froome can close the gap, and so would the people behind Froome. But as it is, when Cav went like how Cav can go there was no way Froome, or likely anyone else would have been able to keep his wheel.
Valverde:
They almost had it closed. Two times, the gap was under 40 seconds, and another two times it was holding at around a minute. Had they had one more rider giving it all then the gap would be shut, or maybe 2 riders going hard.
So many missed opportunities to form an alliance to close the gap though. Argos + Movistar? How about Lotto + Argos?
Best race day of the year for me. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time.

Paul Jakma December 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

The dutch station NOS has a behind the scenes video, “De Tour van Bauke”: http://nos.nl/video/548863-de-tour-van-bauke.html with some excellent insights into the echelon stage. I’ve got some english subs here: http://paul.jakma.org/2013/10/10/de-tour-van-bauke-english-subs/

The Inner Ring December 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Thanks

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