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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 11
Stages 7 and 8 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 7: Livarot to Fourgeres: Livarot, in Normandy, is home to one of the tastiest and stinkiest cheeses extant; the Colonel. I am told the aroma is between barnyard and cow flop. I suspect that it is not on anyone’s Tour de France diet. Today’s stage is the only pure power drag race stage until Paris. Again, look for a series of breaks to go away, a break to stick, and the break to get caught with 20 km to go, as the GC teams rest as much as possible.

Look for Cavendish to have a statement day. He’s just lost his teammate Tony Martin. Cav’s took a backseat to Kittel last year and Greipel this year. You do not accumulate 26 stage wins, third on the all-time list behind the Cannibal and the Badger, without a good set of legs and a winning drive to match.

Injury report: Tony Martin. That’s one tough man. He suffered a lateral break of his clavicle. What’s a lateral break? Build a Jenga tower of 6 or 7 pieces. Smack down on the top of the tower. Notice how the pieces went everywhere? So did Martin’s clavicle. One piece of it went through the skin. Yes, the man born in East Germany incurred a compound fracture, got back on his bike, and rolled through the finish. Next time a German soccer player rolls around on the ground in agony because a defender sneezed on him, I hope everyone in Germany tweets that soccer player a photo of Tony Martin. Surgery went well, according to his team’s Twitter account.

Tony Martin

Tony Martin finishes stage 6 with a broken clavicle.

Greg Henderson (Lotto-Soudal) of New Zealand did not sign in for stage 7 and is out the race. Greg crashed hard during stage 3 from Antwerp to Huy. He broke two ribs. Ribs; the broken ends grating against each other with every breath, with every sneeze and cough, whenever one rolls over in bed. Yes, he rode 3 more stages, 600 km, with two broken ribs. Another very tough guy. Andre Greipel will miss him. As Mark Renshaw did for Cavendish, Henderson was the ultimate lead-out man. A team with a great sprinter needs a guy who can go near full-gas sprint speed for the last 800 meters and launch the top gear guy down the road.

Tactical notes on the day:

1) There was one KOM sprint on offer today. Daniel Teklehaimanot initiated a break, and took the points. This move solidified his hold on the climber’s polka dotted jersey until at least the first day in the Pyrenees, stage 10, on Tuesday, July 14, Bastille Day.

Daniel Teklehaimanot

Daniel Teklehaimanot in dots

2) Chris Froome was quoted as saying that BMC and Tejay van Garderen made him more nervous than any other team. That’s not to say he respects Quintana, Nibali, or Contador any less. BMC and TVG are an unknown quantity. Tejay has no Grand Tour victories, yet he has shown deep strength in shorter tours.  He rides on the strongest team. He’s not put a foot wrong, and is in third place. He bears watching.

You should realize that some teams play man-to-man defense.

“Okay, listen up! Sundquist, you’ve got both Meingasts and Denman. They go away, and you’re on that move.”

“Got it, boss.”

With that, Sundquist tapes a little note to his stem with their numbers. With Froome’s pronouncement, Tejay now has his number taped to a few SKY stems.

Let’s cut to the chase: After the break was reeled back, it was truly a classic stage for the sprinters. With three km to go, Katusha wound it up for their fast-man, Alexander Kristoff. Etixx for Cav was right there beside them, and a freelancing Peter Sagan was on Mark Cavendish’s back wheel. Greipel jumped first. The smallish Cavendish took the opportunity to fly into the slipstream of Greipel the Giant, and blew past him to win going away.
It was a riotous sprint finish with all the top fuel dragsters dialed in for the win. Watch the video. Kudos to Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) for his 7th place.

What Did We Learn Today?

1) There was little support for Peter Sagan in the final sprint from Tinkoff. If there was any doubt that Oleg’s lads were all-in for Alberto, this was prima facie evidence. It would have been an excellent time to get Sagan a lead-out and stage win. Peter Sagan has been forced to free-lance every sprint. It will be interesting to see which teams contact Sagan over the next few weeks with offers of support for stage wins at the Grand Tours. It’s clear that Tinkoff is not the proper fit for Sagan’s polymathic talents on the bicycle.

STAGE 8: Rennes to Mur de Bretagne, 112.5 MI/181.5 km: Today’s stage travels through Brittany. It passes south of Yffiniac, the home of Le Blaireau, the Badger, Bernard Hinault- one of cycling’s true badasses - a man not afraid of a punch-up on the bike or the podium.

Much like Stage 6, today is not a stage for the pure sprinters. The final climb is worthy of both puncheurs in search of a stage win, and the GC men in search of seconds.

Typically, on the day before a team time trial, the GC teams are content to let a group of non-contenders go away. The GC teams save crucial energy, and it creates good feelings in the peloton amongst the escapees’ teams.  A GC team might call upon those feelings at a more crucial stage of the race. It’s not collusion. The French say “de renvoyer l'ascenseur” – to send back the elevator. Team directors and riders- like people in every workplace - make friends with their colleagues. When it doesn’t hurt your team, you are happy to help out a friend.

Let’s cut to the chase.

20 MI/32km to go: A group of three is away; Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal), Michal Golas (Etixx-Quickstep), and Bora-Argon’s Bartosz Huzarski -the owner of the veiniest legs in cycling, are away at 60 seconds and going full-bore. At race speed, they have an 800 meter lead. They won’t stay away.

As the main field passes the 30 km banner, a newly married couple, surrounded by a 120 friends of their friends who stand in the shape of a heart, wave to the helicopter. The peloton, passing, does not wave back. They are chasing hard, stringing it out. The last 2 km today are full gas serious. The team race is to the last corner of the course. From there, they’ll launch their men up the climb which peaks at 12%. Once on the climb, it’s in your legs, or it isn’t.

15 MI/ 24 km to go: The breakaway is going 80%, and it looks as if they have caved to the inevitable. They’ve realized they’re done. It is time to save the legs a bit so they can finish with the group on the climb.

12.5 MI/20 km to go: Cannondale-Garmin is doing the lion’s share of work to finish off the breakaway. They have 6 men at the front. This finish suits Dan Martin, the World’s ninth ranked rider, from bottom to top. Chris Froome is neatly tucked in place. His SKYs are behind Martin, and he sits fourth wheel in his line. The BMCs are there, hiding in the wheels for a change. The hill might be too steep for their Greg van Avermaet. Tinkoff is present, with Alberto Contador in tow. Katusha is lining it up, perhaps for another Rodriguez attack. After they lost that idiot Luca Paolini to a cocaine positive, the Katushas’ could use a lift, a boost, a rush (pun intended).

10.0 MI/16 km to go: The break dangles at 00:33. If they’re not caught soon, they’ll die one thousand deaths on the climb. You’ve been pushing a 53x13 for 3 hours; hit the climb, down to a 39x18 you go. Cramps ensue.

Cannondale has spent the last 15:00 exclusively at the front. It is a huge amount of work the day before the TTT, especially if Dan Martin doesn’t win.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: And here comes Tinkoff!! They’ve claimed the front with a vengeance. Are they riding for Sagan? Greipel came to the front and stepped on the gas. Odd, because he has his teammate Lars Bak in the break, 23 seconds ahead. The gap is down to 200 meters. If the breakaways look over their shoulders, they can see the peloton. Huzarski has sat up and he rolls back into the main field. Bak & Golas are rolling along at 70%.

5.0 MI/8 km to go: Caught. Bak and Golas nod at each other, swing to either side, and are swept into the middle of group.

BMC, still leading on team GC, takes over the front, 8 guys strong. Froome is well-aware of TVG’s strength and the strength of BMC. If Tejay goes, he will have a Froome shadow. Greipel has exited, stage left.

3 MI/5 km to go: In contrast to the cobbles, this is perfect pavement - 2 lanes, with some slight rollers a taste of what’s ahead. BMC is killing it on a slight downhill at 38 mph. TVG sits third wheel. The pack hits a sharp left hand turn at speed and everyone is safely through.

2.5 MI/4 km to go: Mick Rogers (Tinkoff) is a three times World Time Trial champion and he is at the front for Contador. Maybe Alberto wants to have a go? Regardless, guys are getting spit out the back by Mick’s power like watermelon seeds.

1.8 MI/3 km to go: The big trains are done. If you’re in with a chance, you’ve got one teammate ahead of you.

1.2 MI/2 km to go: In the last three km, the field is down to 40 guys, from 180. Here’s the right hand turn. Dang, that looks steeper than 7%! Up the hill and through the tunnel of trees.

Froome is second wheel, and Peter Sagan is beside him. Edvald Boasson-Hagen is hanging tough. Every rider is out of the saddle. Warren Barguil is right there. He’s a Breton. That would be quite a coup. These Bretons are a proud people.

With a climb of this length, patience is necessary. Go too soon, you’re the carrot, and you’ll die before the finish.

Red Kite Time!

A group of three is led away by Adam Yates (Orica-Greenedge). Gaps are opening all over the road. Froome is at the front to pull them back. The yellow jersey is racing to win the stage! Sagan is right there with him.

What the heck? There goes Nibali out the back. The pace must be incredible.
The group is back together. There goes an AG2R. I have no idea who he is, but he’s got a big gap. I think he’s gone too soon. Dan Martin jumps. That’s the perfect time. The AG2R is Alex Vuillermoz. I remember that name from World Cup MTB racing.

Martin cannot close the gap. He’s going hard, but Vuillermoz will not be caught. What a gutsy attack, and a huge show of strength. AV went early, went hard, and won going away.

Alexis Vuillmeroz

Alexis Vuillermoz takes the stage. Martin, in green, is second.

How unknown is Alex Vuillermoz? The TV crews did not prepare a Chiron with his name to crawl across the screen.

Martin ends up a very unhappy second. In the Tour de France, on a day like this, second place truly is first loser. Valverde pops out of a small group for third.

  1. Vuillermoz.
  2. Martin.
  3. Valverde.

What Did We Learn Today?

1) Alex Vuillermoz jumped away at ‘the wrong time.’ As AV is an unknown, and his attack was totally unexpected, Martin expected him to die on the climb. Wisely, Dan waited for the proper moment. Except AV, a World Cup level MTBer, didn’t fade.

To the top step of the podium with you, Alex Vuillermoz, a young man with guts and strength. A well-taken win.

2) This year’s course has created opportunities. Every day, the GC guys are riding aggressively. That makes for exciting racing.

3) It was a solid day for BMC. They were able to ride in the wheels most of the day, and that will leave them fresher for Sunday’s TTT.

4) It is a cycling truism that you cannot win the Tour in the TTT, but you can certainly lose it. That is not true on Sunday. With two notable climbs along the 28 km route, before the final 1.7km long climb at 7%, it is quite possible a team could give their GC leader a big enough gap to carry him safely through the high mountains of weeks 2 & 3, and into Paris in the yellow jersey.

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