This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
Just as I had predicted in my last post, about how Mark Cavendish of Team Sky was waiting for a chance to prove his form, he rode a blistering sprint in the final 600m and won the second stage in this year’s tour, his 22nd win in his career. He thus equals the record of the famous sprinter of yesteryears – André Darrigade, and also showed that his form for the Olympics is formidable.
On a day, when most pundits had looked at the course, and decided that the breakaways would rule the roost for one final time, it was Team Sky’s decision to do the sprint for Cavendish that turned the game on its head. Having seen Cavendish do a domestique’s job on many a stages in the Alps & the Pyrenees, I knew that today would be payback time for him from the team, and they did exactly that. In the end, it was the Yellow jersey of Bradley Wiggins, who brought him to the final km and delivered him on the finishing straight, though mind you all, it need a Cavendish kind of all out sprint to seal the win.
On his win number 22, he said, “Twenty-two stage wins… has it sunk in? Yeah! because I’ve been waiting to do it for nearly three weeks now. I’m now equal with André Darrigade: he won 15 sprints but 22 stages of the Tour de France. So to match him is something; it makes me happy.”
“It’s incredible. I’ve had a lot of desperation for a sprint as we haven’t had a lot for me to do this year. It was always going to be close at the end because there were a few guys still away but the team rode perfectly and Brad timed it so we’d catch them in the last km and then Edvald went and gave me a slingshot and off I went. I had a lot to give,” was how he described his final sprint effort.
About his role in the big picture of the team he added, “We came here with the goal of winning the yellow jersey. We’ve got first and second on GC. We can’t ask for anything more than that. The spirits are high and to be part of the team that is going to win the Tour de France is a massive honour. It put my sprint chances on the back foot but, mentally it wasn’t hard because we have the yellow jersey and we have second on GC and the guys are doing incredibly well so I’m full of pride to be part of that. But I’m a sprinter and I had to find my place – it’s kind of like putting Wayne Rooney in defence, you know. I was kind of lost. But I’m so proud. It could have been easy for the guys to cruise into Paris.”
Recounting the team meet before the race today, Cavendish said, “Even this morning, on the bus, Sean Yates (Team Sky – Directeur Sportif) was like, ‘Okay boys, it’s an easy day today… let’s let the break go’. But I was like, ‘Oh please let me have a chance!’ Then Brad came up and said, ‘Look, we’re going to ride today. We’ll make a sprint.’ And we saw that. He could have easily sat up at the end but, Brad and Froomey just came up and I’m so grateful for what they did. We had Edvald in the break then he was leading me out… we’ve got a great group of guys.”
The 18th road stage of the 99thTour de France was fromBlagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde, a distance of 222kms. Today’s course had one climb of Cat 3 and three Cat 4 climbs, but on the whole was on the flat roads. For the record all the 153 riders who finished yesterday’s stage reported at the start today.
Meanwhile, it was more bad news for Frank Schleck of RadioShack-Nissan, as he discovered that his B-Sample has also tested non-negative for the diuretic that was found in his July 14th sample. This means that he is now in trouble and will have to explain how it got into his system. Though this chemical is not exactly one, which can put him under severe suspension/ban, it will definitely damage his reputation. Having read too many whoz done it’s – me thinks – could it be a case of his own sponsor doing him in by giving him something, without his knowledge, so as to get him and his more famous brother to back down from obvious offers that are coming to them from other teams to join them next year?? Or could it be even more diabolical, as, his team’s sponsor has been in difficulty of the financial kind, and if both these brothers get entangled in a controversy, then maybe he doesn’t have to pay them their salaries, something which has been widely reported as not having been paid so far!!??
As today’s race started,a series of attacks was seen in the front. But, each time a rider escaped away in the front the peloton would speed up and bring him back into the fold. In this manner, for a long time, no rider was able to get away, till the 21km mark. At this mark a 6 men group escaped. But they too were caught after a few km. It was on the climb of the Cat 3 Côte de Saint-Georges, that a 16 rider group, finally made the escape. They soon increased their lead to over 2min, and crossing the feed zone, the lead again went up slightly to the 3min mark. By this time, the teams who had missed the break were coming to the front to make the bridge to the escapees, so also were the sprinters teams, who also were looking at a stage win.
As the group crossed the 43km to go mark, it was David Millar of Garmin Sharp who tried to escape away. It was foiled. Similar efforts byYukiya Arashiro of Europcar and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky were also foiled. With the peloton coming back at them at a tremendous pace, and the lead shrinking to less than 30secs, it was at the 20km to go banner, that Adam Hanson of Lotto-Belisol made his break. He dragged away Jérémy Roy of FDJ-BigMat, Alexander Vinokourov of Team Astana, Nick Nuyens of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Luca Paolini of Katusha from the remaining riders and this group tried their best to stay away.
Within this small group, as the race kms started coming down, the pace was too much for some to continue. Nuyens & Roy soon dropped back. But, it was Vinokourov, who perhaps riding his last tour, and looking for a swansong finish, had the energy to keep going. His efforts at the front, gave the other two some momentum, but each time he flagged off, the two other riders refused to share the burden of driving them forward and an angry Vinokourov was seen gesticulating more than once at them. This lack of cohesion soon saw to it that three other riders in the form of Andreas Klöden of RadioShack-Nissan, Nicolas Roche of AG2R La Mondiale & Luis León Sánchez of Rabobank joined them in the front from the peloton.
From here on, it was a race against time. With kms counting down, rider after rider were being gobbled down by the speeding peloton, and the lead at the front was just hanging around the under 10secs mark. Back in the peloton, Wiggins true to his word took charge and stepped up the pace with Cavendish at his wheel. Peter Sagan also was seen getting on to Cavendish’s wheel and Orica GreenEdge were lining up for a delivery train for Matt Goss. After, a 90degree left in the final km, Wiggins safely handed Cavendish to Boasson Hagen who was being overtaken by the peloton, who positioned Cavendish correctly and with about 600m to go, the Manx Missile fired. Such was the pace of his final burst that both Roche&Sánchez, who were already sprinting, looked like they were standing still!! Cavendish opened up a huge gap on the rest of the field and finished with enough time to fling his “arms open hug” for the world to enjoy. Goss outsprinted Sagan for the second place.
The rest of the peloton rolled in shortly thereafter, and since all the leading riders were riding together, no changes are there for the overall positions.
The top 5 on the leader board remain the same today. With Bradley Wiggins in the Yellow Jersey, Chris Froome in the second spot followed by Nibali at third and Jurgen van den Broeck in the fourth spot. Haimar Zubeldia of RadioShack-Nissan moves out of the top five overall and Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing takes his place.As I said in my last post, all the jerseys have been finalized for this tour. The Yellow Jersey will be with Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The Green Jersey will be with Peter Sagan of Liqigas Cannondale. The White Jersey will be withTejay van Garderen of BMC Racing team, whileThomas Voeckler of Europcar takes theKing of the Mountain polka dotted Jersey. Team RadioShack-Nissanstill continues as the best team in the race.
Yellow Jersey of Bradley Wiggins commenting on Cavendish’s sprint said, “As I said the other day, he’s been a true champion and today we showed that, we all wanted to repay him somehow. We’ve still got Sunday as well, but today was fantastic. He has certainly improved his climbing and if you look at all those contenders for the Olympic road race there aren’t many left really who you could say were in as good a shape as Mark… he certainly is the favourite. He’s the fastest man in the world – without doubt. He showed that he can go from 600 out – we just watched it – and he left them for dead, didn’t he?”
On the world champion’s attitude, he added, “Cav has waited a while for that and he’s been patient and I think he’s got his reward today and it showed the team commitment to him today. It’s been difficult the last couple of weeks; we’ve had to put his goals and aspirations aside really. No one likes that. He is the world champion at the end of the day, but it was nice that we could all do that for him today and give him another win – so it’s fantastic.
The 19thstage of TdF will be an individual time trail fromBonneval to Chartres, a distance of 53.5kms. Me thinks, Bradley Wiggins will win this blindfolded.His superb form not only attests to a resounding win in the coming, but also the lack of TT specialists in the peloton, Tony Martin, World Champion & Fabian Cancellara, 4 times world champion, both already out of the tour, makes it a cake walk for Wiggins. But, then again stranger things have happened, but watch out for the rides of Froome & Van Garderen, both of whom I classify as potential threats. But for a betting man, Wiggins is the where the cream will be!!Watch this space tomorrow for another tour update…:)
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