Highlights of 2013 – Part III

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.

28 thoughts on “Highlights of 2013 – Part III”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • “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.

    • 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. 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…

  8. 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.
    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.

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