This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France follower…
The biggest challenge is yet to come !!
With the announcement of his signing up with the Radio Shack team by Lance Armstrong, the battle lines are going to drawn very clearly now. Reports of displeasure within the Astana team on Contador’s move in Stage 16 is now in the open.
On one hand Contador defends his decision of attacking the Schleck brothers by stating that he had Johan Bruyneel’s permission and had discussed it with him, whereas Bruyneel has stated very emphatically that he had asked Contador not to attack, as the teams chances of having three riders on the podium would have been jeopardized. In the end that one attack has allowed the Saxo bank team to put two riders in the top 5 & Astana will have to redouble their efforts to achieve their goal. Not impossible, but with Bradley Wiggins breathing down Kloden’s neck, it is just not going to be so easy. And of course, Andy Schleck is a pure climber and he is just waiting to have a go on Mont Ventoux.
For the riders, the end of the Alpine stages will be a big relief. A few like Dennis Menchov, the Rabobank team leader, who was expected to be a title contender, having had a very bad tour & more than 4 crashes till now, is just looking at finishing at Paris. So also is last year’s champion Carlos Sastre & even Cadel Evans of Silence Lotto team.
The 19th Stage of the Tour de France started from Bourgoin-Jallieu and ended at Aubenas, a distance of 178 kms. This transitional stage of the race route was deceptively flat and not easy as it seemed for most riders who thought that they could ride in energy conservation mode for the next stage which will see a mountain top finish at Mont Ventoux – a hors category climb, today was a big surprise.
The Tour has stopped at Bourgoin-Jallieu & Aubenas once before in 1962 and comes back to the town after a gap of 47 years. Bourgoin-Jallieu with a population of 25,000 is one town known for its association with Sports & Photoelectric products. Whereas Aubenas is famous for the Castle from which the Montlaurs ruled in the 11th – 14th century. The Castle perched on a rocky edge is a great place to spend a day on picnic savouring the chestnut delicacies that Aubenas is so famous for.
In our travel so far, we have had to move from one location to the next by all kinds of modes. Before I forget, would like to put some practical points on record for those who would want to venture to France.
When ever you travel by train in France, its not enough for you to possess a ticket bought at the counter with coach & seat no, its valid only if you have swiped it on the machine at the entrance to the platform. If you forget to do that, the ticket will be void & on being checked, which happens almost on every train, the penalty is 500 euros!! (We were lucky that a fellow passenger told us this!!)
Then again, a bottle of mineral water in a supermarket has two prices!! If picked from a rack, its .50 cents, whereas the same bottle picked from the cooler is for 1.50 euros!! (This no one told us, we found it ourselves after a week!!)
Today’s race was extremely fast, with the pace moving above the average speed in the first half of the race & then increasing in the second half to finish at an astonishing 48 kms / hour!! Many a breakaways tried their luck, including Cadel Evans & Kim Kerchen, but none could hold out long enough. When world champion Alexandro Ballan thought he had an opportunity, he attacked, but even his pace was matched by the peleton. In the end, as yours truly had predicted in my last column, the Manx Missile was delivered by his team in good position with just 1200 meters to go & he claimed his 5th Stage win!! So after Armstrong in 2004, Mark Cavendish becomes the first one to win 5 stages in the same tour.
For the record in Stage 18 – the winner was Mark Cavendish of the British Columbia team. The individual standings of the top remains the same – the Yellow Jersey remains with Alberto Contador. Andy Schleck maintains his 2nd position & Lance Armstrong stays 3rd overall, though today he gained 4 seconds on Andy Schleck. The Green Jersey remains with Thor Hurshod of Norway & the White Jersey with Andy Schleck.
The 20th & penultimate stage of the tour starts from Montelimar and ends at Mont Ventoux, a distance of 167 kms. With a straight climb of over 21 kms, to reach Mont Ventoux this is one mountain every professional cyclist wants to have in his kitty. It’s a different matter all together that very few succeed. Though me thinks that the Armstrong & team will go for broke and see if they can change the podium places!! Right now, we are on our way to Mont Ventoux to be there when the riders come…
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