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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 6
Stages 1 through 3 reviewed and assessed

Back to Commentary index page | 2015 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

Stage 1 Time Trial, Utrecht:
Rohan Dennis put on a display of pure power and carefully calculated aerodynamics that earned him the first yellow jersey of Tour 2015. It is not possible to place a human being in a more aerodynamic position on a bicycle and stay within limits that satisfy both the UCI and the Cirque du Soleil.
What Rohan Dennis accomplished needs perspective. Whilst I do not have access to Team BMC Racing data, I do have an HD TV and a stopwatch. I made a few calculations.

Rohan Dennis covered 13.8 twisting kilometers in 14.93 minutes. That’s 55.46 kph. In other words, next time you drive down the street at 34.39 mph for a quarter of an hour, imagine doing so on your bicycle.

You and I, at 18 mph, turn our 70.2 inch, 39x15 gear at 90 rpm. Each pedal revolution carries us 6 yards. I measured Rohan’s rpm through a two minute, straight section of the course. He averaged 94 rpm. Every rotation of his 137.7 inch, 56 x 11 gear carried him 12 yards. Through this section of the course, Rohan Dennis was traveling at 38.4 mph. It wasn’t windy.

Rohan Dennis

Rohan Dennis turning in the stage-winning ride

What Did We Learn Today?

1) After the opening TT, the race’s key players are clustered together. Vincenzo Nibali was the fastest, 43 seconds behind Dennis. Chris Froome was 9 seconds behind Nibali, Contador 15 seconds behind Nibali, and Quintana 18 seconds back of the Shark of Messina. What do we now know that we didn’t this morning?
Everyone is tanned, rested, and ready.

2) The real discovery of the opening time trial? Wilco Kelderman (Lotto-Jumbo) is in 9th place, 30 seconds in arrears to Dennis, and 13 seconds ahead of Nibali. In his Tour debut, Kelderman has fired a warning shot to the other white jersey contenders, and perhaps, to the management of the team that all Lotto-Jumbo’s hopes do not rest on team leader Robert Gesink’s shoulders.

Stage 2, Utrecht -Zelande:
To paraphrase Indiana Jones, “Wind. Why’d it have to be wind?” Wind is the relentless bastard of cycling.

When the Tour hits the high mountains, the pros know their jobs. The job of the rouleurs is to haul across the flats and deliver their team’s climbers to the base of the climbs. As the climb starts in earnest, the rouleurs form the autobus (France) or the grupetto (Italy); the group of non-climbers who ride together to ensure that as many as possible meet the time cut. If it’s the steep, punchy climbs found in the northern classics, a pro can handle the job stress by saying to himself, “I gotta get to that mailbox.” Once he gets to the mailbox, he’ll say, “Gotta get to that sign post.”

But wind. The wind always wins. You don’t know when the wind will start. You don’t know if the wind will end. You grovel in the gutter at the tail of the echelon and you curse the guys at the front who hammer the race into the crosswind. You die a little every time a slight gap opens. There are 52 kilometers to go, and there is no respite in sight. You’re on the tip of your saddle, barely able to grab a drink and completely unable to grab a bite. The road grit flies into your face and works its way behind your eyewear. Your eyes burn. Your back aches and your crotch goes numb. Your hands lose all sensation. Should you lose concentration for a moment, you’re blown into a ditch. Closing gaps is an endless high output torture. Mark Cavendish tells the story of having to close a 20 meter gap in a windy race not long ago. “It took me 500 meters to close a twenty meter gap. 500 meters! I put out 800 watts to close that gap. I didn’t need 800 watts in my sprint to win the bloody race.”

Wind is a climb that never ends.

It was windy at the end of Stage II. Team Sky’s men and the Tinkoff-Saxo boys were well-positioned and got their captains across the gap. Froome finished in the same time as Andre Greipel, the stage winner. Contador was a meaningless 4 seconds behind. But for Nibali and Quintana, the gap was 1:28.

Andre Greipel wins stage 2

André Greipel barely wins stage 2

What Did We Learn Today?

1) Two top teams, Movistar and Astana, missed the split. Poor tactics and positioning have cost the team energy that must be carefully metered.

2) It sends a signal to the race leading teams that perhaps Movistar and Astana can be caught out through smart tactics.

3) The gap may create an alliance between Contador’s Tinkoff team and Froome’s Team SKY. They would much rather focus on just one key opponent.

4) Even with the climbing skills of Nibali and Quintana, one should never willingly give Froome and Contador a 90 second lead going into the mountains.

5) Full marks to Tejay van Garderen. He rode a fine Stage 1 TT, and his finish in the group Contador has him in 8th place after Day II’s stage.

STAGE 3, Antwerp-Huy:
Fleche-Wallonne is one of my favorite spring races. Three times up the Mur de Huy, with its 25% slope, gives the riders a chance to stamp their authority on the day. Stage III, with its closing spring up the Huy, promised as much.
At 58 km to go, the crash that neutralized the race was NASCAR/F1 worthy. As I’ve  gone down at speed myself too many times, I shivered in sympathetic pain. Riders were skidding across the highly abrasive tarmac like drunken ice fishermen on a freshly frozen lake. I freeze-framed my DVR as yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara rag-dolled at 34 mph (55 kph) across the screen. Using spectators as a yardstick, Fabian’s bike was twelve feet in the air as it completed three revolutions.

Cancellara got back on his bike and made it to the finish.  Once the commissaires realized the destruction wrought by the crash, they neutralized the stage for 18 minutes whilst team crews got things sorted. Most of the other thirty or so men in that horrific crash also limped into Huy. Only four riders failed to finish. Laurens Ten Dam dislocated his shoulder, had it reduced, got back on his bike, and finished the stage. Are cyclists tough enough for you?

As Jonathon Vaughters is often quoted, “Next time you’re driving at 35 mph, strip down to your underwear, open the door, and jump out of the car.”

The remainder of the stage followed the script of La Fleche Wallonne. A series of attacks are launched and reeled in, followed by a mad dash by the rouleurs to get their main men to the base of the 1.3 km Mur de Huy, often honored as “The Toughest Kilometer in Cycling.”

Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara struggling to the finish.

What Did We Learn Today?

1) As if there was any doubt, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez (Katusha) knows how to race and win on the Mur.

2) How bad was the mid-race crash? I’ve been watching the Tour de France since 1985. That year, Greg LeMond offered to punch a reporter in the face as he eavesdropped on Greg and DS Paul Koechli’s argument after a stage in which LeMond dropped team leader Hinault. In the ensuing 30 years, I’ve never seen a stage neutralized as happened today following that crash. I offer kudos to the ASO as they finally made rider safety a paramount issue. After the 2011 Tour in which there were multiple incidents which culminated with Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha getting tossed through barbed wire like vegetables through a kitchen mandolin, I wondered if ASO viewed Les Forçats de la Route as little more than disposable parts.

3) Chris Froome can handle his bike. The race up the Mur is a modified crazy field sprint- every rider is either spent and going backward, or red-lined on the rivet. Riders attack too soon, blow up, and snake around the cobbles as they teeter on the edge of hypoxia-induced unconsciousness. Froome managed to pick a line at speed that earned him second place on the day.

4) Astana and Movistar got caught out yesterday in the crosswinds. There were no such tactical errors today. Nibali and Quintana were delivered present and correct to finish that heinous sprint of the Mur only eleven seconds in arrears.

5) Contador smartly raced within himself. Not in a position to win the stage, or any of the time bonuses on offer, he raced to finish 18 seconds behind Froome and Rodriquez.

6) Tejay van Garderen (BMC) has marked himself as a contender for the podium. He climbed the Mur like a true champion as he led in the Vincenzo Nibali group at eleven seconds to move into third place on GC, 13 seconds behind Chris Froome. Currently in third place in team GC, Team BMC is strong. With the wisdom of Alan Pieper in the team, I don’t see BMC putting a foot wrong in the tactical department.

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