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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 12
Stage 9 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 9: Vannes to Plumelec, 17.5 MI/28 km - In which we learn that TVG & the B-Boys rule.

The Plumelec region of Brittany is home to a fine cidery; the Nicol family has been turning out Cidre Rhuys since 1925. Hand-harvested and organic, it’s worth seeking out. It pairs well with pork and chicken. Perhaps it might find itself on a TdF team menu today. The teams all employ full-time chefs and many of them speak of how they like to prepare locally sourced foods for their teams.

Today’s stage is an anomaly. Most TTT courses are flat-out drag races. This course features two climbs, several lengthy sections of false flat, and one very serious ramp (1.5 km long/150 m elevation gain) to close the route.

In a TTT, the time is taken on the fifth man in the team over the finish. Normally, this allows a team to use up several riders by the ¾ point of the race. However, on this course, a team cannot risk burning riders early, as they cannot have their fifth rider blow up on the final climb. It will be interesting to see if the key GC men, all good climbers, drag their teammates up the final climb.

On a team with several strong TT specialists, i.e. Rohan Dennis (erstwhile World Hour Record holder of BMC Cycling), the trick is to use them for longer turns at the front, rather than faster turns. If a true specialist hits the front and picks up the pace by as little as 2 kph, splits appear in the line. Proper tactics are to go as fast as possible for the entire team, and let your strongest men take longer pulls.
What makes this TTT so destructive is there is no respite. You’re pounding the 53x13 on the flat, the 53x16 on the first climbs, and the 53x11 on the descents. Even as you drift back after taking your pull, you cannot afford a mental break. Flying along at 55 kph, three inches away from your teammates’ elbows, any lapse in concentration can cause a touch of wheels that will destroy your team’s chances in the overall, cause a crash, and make you highly unpopular at the team’s dining table.

Worst of all, with 2 km to go, after 32 minutes of seeing black spots in the red zone, it’s all uphill.

There is a strong chance that either Tejay van Garderen or Peter Sagan could end up in yellow today. Chris Froome, the current maillot jaune, and Team Sky are very strong, but BMC Cycling is their equal. Any team with Rohan Dennis, is a favorite. Tejay is only 13 seconds back of Froome. Tinkoff is solid in the TTT for Alberto Contador, and Sagan is just 11 seconds back.

Today we shall see who has the best team to stand by their man in the high mountains.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Trek Factory Racing finishes with 5 men. The fourth man in line keeps looking over his shoulder to make certain man #5 is not dropped. They’ll finish in 11th, at 1:25 behind.

Trek Facotry

Trek Factory Racing

Astana is down to 5 men with 3 km to go. As they have several strong climbers besides Nibali, perhaps they chose to burn out a few guys early across the lumpy first 20 km.

This Just In: Word is that Nibali had such good legs today that he blew up the team on one of the early climbs.

Astana

Astana

Movistar on course. Nairo Quintana is one of the world’s best climbers, but he is a sneaky fast TT rider.

Cannondale-Garmin is in. They finish 54 seconds down to Astana and Nibali. That does not bode well for Andrew Talansky. They’ll end up in 12th at 1:29 back. Sketchy.

Movistar has split up on a false flat. That’s bad mojo. The lead group looks to be easing a bit, to get everyone back together.

BMC on course. They won the World TTT championships-the only world’s title contested by sponsored teams, rather than national squads. However, the Tour team has several different members.

Movistar is back together. Even with their tactical error, they are fastest at the second time check. Their line again looks smooth. Karma restored.

Katusha heads to the finish and they are 5 separate riders. Totally blown. Not a good look.

Katusha

Team Katusha

Movistar down to 5 on the final climb, but the team of Valverde and Quintana looks great. Nairo is totally on-task. They finish five abreast. Perfect. That puts the team 31 seconds up on ex-leader Astana. And there was much rejoicing.
The crowds are incredible. The final few kilometers are lined 15 to 20 deep on both sides along the barricade. The noise of the crowds beating on the signage sounds like being at a performance of STOMP! Incroyable!

BMC is on to checkpoint 2. They look smooth and well-organized. BMC is totally on-point. They lead by 3 seconds over Movistar. The camera shows Valverde chewing on his thumbnail.

Etixx-QuickStep finishes in 4th for the moment. Fairly awesome, considering they’re without World TT champ Tony Martin.

Chris Froome is the only guy taking long pulls for Team SKY. They have a quick rotation. Some teams like to have a rider hit the front and stay on the nose for 20-30 seconds. Others like a rider to hit the front and immediately swing off. There is no “better.” It depends on the riders.

Team SKY just lost Luke Rowe as they approach checkpoint number two. Team SKY is three-tenths of a second ahead of BMC. That’s a true marginal gain.

Tinkoff-Saxo is in at the finish. A good ride, yet they are 24 seconds down on

Movistar.  As the camera pans, Valverde and Quintana are grinning at each other. Twenty four seconds over 28 km is a nice bump with the Pyrenees on Tuesday.

BMC is down to 5 riders. They need to be careful not to drop #5-currently Greg van Avermaet.

BMC

BMC

One km to go for BMC. Rohan is doing all the work with Tejay in second wheel. The last corner, after all the day’s effort, is a 12% ramp. That’s brutal. Tejay has pulled through and leads the team across. BMC covered the last uphill km was 1:55.

Move it on over, Movistar. Time to vacate the hot-seat.
Quintana lost only 4 seconds to TVG. That won’t bother Nairo in the mountains.

For Team SKY, Froome takes another long pull.
Tejay is intent on the monitor. He chews a water bottle nozzle, his nose drips sweat, and his face is inches from the screen. 38:27 is the time. Should SKY come through slower than that, Tejay van Garderen will be in yellow. Should SKY come through any slower than 32:15, then BMC wins the stage. SKY has 5 riders with 1 km to go. Froome goes to the front again and takes a massive turn.

Nicholas Roche is the face of pain at the back of the line. He just blew!!! Great news for BMC! There’s a gap between Roche and the first four.

SKY is on it. They’re alert. They sit up a skosh and Froome drops back and pulls Roche back up. They finish together. The time?? One SECOND BEHIND.

Sky

Team Sky

Great win on the day’s stage for BMC by 1 second! Tejay and the boys are ecstatic. TVG is bouncing all over the place. He’s hugging every man in BMC red and black. What a great win for the fellows who will sacrifice all for the next two weeks as they try to win the Tour with Tejay.

Now you know why Froome was so intent on keeping track of TVG and the B-boys.

The finish order:

  1. BMC Cycling: 32:15
  2. Team SKY @ 00:01
  3. Movistar 00:04
  4. Tinkoff 00:28
  5. Astana 00:35

The GC:

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Tejay van Garderen @ 0:12
  3. Greg van Avermaet 0:27
  4. Peter Sagan 0:38
  5. Alberto Contador 1:03

What Did We Learn Today?

Far be it from me to argue with Greg LeMond. He was shocked that the gaps were so close. Yesterday, I wrote that I anticipated large gaps between the big teams. With only 35 seconds between the five top teams, clearly I missed the memo on relative team strength.

Following Monday’s rest day, the teams enter the Pyrenees. There are 145 km of flat, and then, boom! Up the Soudet. The Soudet is 15 km, with a vertical change of 1500 meters at an average of 7.3%, although the first few km are markedly steeper. It’s clear the key men and their teams are in exceptional fitness. Knowing that, it would not surprise me to see a drag race across the flats as the key teams turn their climbers loose on the first day in the mountains to try and stake an early lead.

Random Race Fact: BMC and Team SKY were never more than 1 second apart at any checkpoint.

Join in the conversation: One week in the books. Is the race going to plan? Who are the winners and losers as we enter the Pyrenees, after Monday’s rest day, on Tuesday?

And please, no wagering.

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Stanley’s Twitter is here.  I tweet early, and often.

For great live text updates of the daily stages, don’t miss LiveUpdateGuy.com

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