Highlights of 2011 – Part I

I’m going to pick 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.

Hushovd Lourdes

First up is Stage 13 of the Tour de France from Pau to Lourdes. Allow me to set the scene. We had Thomas Voeckler in yellow and a relatively short stage across the Pyrenees dominated by the hors catégorie Col d’Aubisque. Revisiting my preview of the stage I called things quite well predicting a breakaway and pointing out the descent would suit risk takers. But few thought Thor Hushovd was going to win.

Stage 13

The stage started fast with breakaways forming at high speed. If you haven’t seen the first hour of a race then you can sometimes miss the best part of the day. Moves come and go until finally the elastic snaps. But what amounts to a few words on this blog misses the effort and pain involved. As soon as the départ réel begins then bicycle combat begins with riders trying to asphyxiate their rivals. The speed hits 60km/h. After all this is the Tour de France and on a stage like this a breakaway has a good chance. “You have to be in it to win it” rings true… and probably rings out via 160 race radio earpieces as desperate DSs bark orders to their riders.

This time a group got away within the first half hour. It was composed of Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo), Dmitry Fofonov (Astana). David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), Jérôme Pineau (Quickstep), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre ), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) and Jérémy Roy (FDJ) and they made their way to the mighty Aubisque.

What happened next was a surprise but with hindsight, tactical genius. Hushovd attacked at the foot of the Aubisque and it seemed riders and TV viewers alike in thinking he was doomed. But this simply meant others in the breakaway did not chase at first and the Norwegian powered away, taking time on everyone else. Crucially this provided him with a buffer by the time he got to the steeper ramps. Behind Roy and Moncoutié left the others in the breakaway and soon Roy was going solo in pursuit of Hushovd. Indeed Roy caught the world champion and powered past to head over the col whilst Moncoutié caught Hushovd close to the summit. A small descent and then over the Soulor pass and Roy lead by close to two minutes over Moncoutié and Hushovd.

Hushovd had climbed to perfection, taking time on the early slopes and pacing himself on the harder parts, conceding time but perhaps knowing he could take plenty back on the descent. The descent off the Aubisque is technical with cambered hairpin bends and Hushovd was in his element as he barrelled down with Moncoutié struggling to remain in contact. But Hushovd kept the veteran Frenchman with him. Applying hindsight again this was a great move for two reasons. First, the wind was rising in the valley and Hushovd needed any shelter he could get and even if Moncoutié didn’t provide much, he wouldn’t threaten in the sprint. Second, French rivalry meant that Cofidis were extra keen to chase down FDJ to the point of preferring a Garmin win ahead of their arch rivals. So much for solidarité.

Roy had been in several breakaways so far in the race including a big move the previous day and he found the headwind in the valley roads too much and was caught by Thor Hushovd, who powered away from Moncoutié with 3km to go and then went on to celebrate his third stage win of the 2011 Tour de France, his white rainbow-striped clothing shining in the afternoon sun. The strong but silent type, he roared as he crossed the line.

Lourdes is famous as the French city of miracles and a sprinter winning in the Pyrenees could surprise. Good fortune and timing were apparent but there was nothing paranormal, instead Hushovd rode a rational race applying what the French call la science de la course or the science of racing. He has proved able to climb well in previous stage races and by building a lead on the early part of the Aubisque, he could afford to give back time later on. His descending skills allowed him to take back time on Roy and the rising wind meant he and Moncoutié to the Lourdes in time to catch the escape artist. It was one of the smartest rides of the year.

Finally spare a thought for Roy and Moncoutié. Roy won the combatitivity prize for the race when it reached Paris, a reward for his constant attacks and strong riding, a stage win would have been a better reward but then again the frequent moves might have cost him vital energy. And Moncoutié is a rider worth saluting. He began the season with the Mont Faron stage of the Tour Méd and took the Vuelta’s mountain jersey again. He turned pro at the same time as David Millar and has a consistent career whilst the sport around him revolved and revolted.

Photo: Mark Johnson/Ironstring.com

17 thoughts on “Highlights of 2011 – Part I”

  1. Absolutely – so well called out! Looking forward to seeing your other ‘moments’ of 2011! As Velo said…this is what cycling should be! In many ways it is a pity the ‘layman’ cannot appreciate the science of winning in our sport…

  2. I remember my wife feeling sorry for Roy at the time.
    He did seem to be in the mix on several stages but came up short in each.
    How much consolation he felt in winning the combativity jersey I’m not sure.

    Does Hushovd’s performace in the TdF and 2011 in general go some way to ending the myth of the rainbow jersey curse?

    I hope Cavendish will make further strides in this direction for 2012!

  3. What I could not understand at the time was why Moncoutie helped Hushovd.
    He should have sat on Thor’s wheel all the way. The end result would have been probably the same, and he would not have this “helped a foreigner, just to deny a win for their French rival team” label on.

    But other than that it was really a good stage.

  4. I love the camera shot on the video as he powers past Roy — Thor has the biggest smile on his face (and gritted teeth). He knew he had the stage and everything had played our perfectly.

    The 2011 tour had plenty of stages where tactics worked out just right. This one. Bossan Hagan winning with the attack on the final climb. Leopard Trek sending their riders down the road to help Andy later on.

  5. Good choice, it’s always great to see the World Champions affirm their abilities. The Mighty God of Thunder, Thor, is a very savvy rider. I saw him (or rather his upraised hands above the heads of the throng of fans) as he won a Tour de France stage in Barcelona. I would rather that Millar had hung on for the win, but somehow didn’t mind as much it being Thor.

  6. What was so great about this win was that he could have just caught Roy w/ Moncoutie and dusted them both easily in the sprint. Instead he dropped them both individually to win solo with panache! That’s what you want to see from someone wearing the rainbow stripes.

  7. I remember David Millar’s tweet, it pretty much described Roy’s pain:

    “What’s a pro cyclists worst nightmare? Racing solo for TdF stage win and knowing Thor Hushovd is chasing you. Fear of God of Thunder.”

    My favourite Hushovd stage win.
    It also goes to show that you won’t do good in the rainbow before you get that black bib off and start dressing properly.

  8. Great choice. One of my favorite races of the year. As someone built like Hushovd, I also knew this was his day. And Thor is my son’s cycling hero.

  9. I happened to be lucky enough to be there for this stage… an amazing day for sure. What was funny to me on this day was the difference in atmospheres between Pau and Lourdes. We (the wife and I) stayed in Lourdes, got up early and quickly made our way to Pau. I hadn’t done much research as to where the stage actually started thinking it would be the biggest thing in town. But we couldn’t find it. And no one knew where it was. It was just another sleepy day, not much going on. We eventually found the start.

    Contrast to Lourdes, where we fired back into later on, dumped the car in the closest available spot on the outskirts of town and began a full on sprint in the hopes we weren’t too late to catch the finish. I had carefully noted as much as I could about the town and we dropped down a secret staircase to the lower section of town and then began to brave the crowd to get as close as we could to the finish. I mean this place was MOBBED. We went through buildings, yards, jumped fences, went under bushes over roof top, literally everything you could possibly do to get towards the finish. We finally got squeezed to a stop about 150 meters from the finish. Couldn’t move a pinkie. And imagine my surprise when Thor was the first to come into view. Absolutely astonishing. And despite having bested two Frenchmen the crowd gave him the full treatment, absolutely nuts. Just can’t believe I had the chance to actually be there for it!

  10. Amazing! Was just watching this race earlier on youtube as part of my out-of-season recap (one video per day)! Watched the Ardennes trio of Gilbert last week!

    Thor has always been one of my favourite riders, for his strength, his character, and his style! Would love to have his descending skills (goal for 2012)!

    Seeing him drop Moncoutie like a stone, drop Roy like a boulder, sailing solo through the last km with the massive & colourful crowd, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, and then…roarrrr! My key highlight from the Tour, along with Cadel Evans’ awesome ITT!!!

    You only have to watch him winning the Worlds with panache to see he has a lot to be admired for!!!

    Thanks, INRNG

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