2016 Tour de France:
What We Know After One Week
By David L. Stanley
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.
His latest book is Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle. If you have spent time outdoors, you should read it. Really!
You should realize that 5 of the first 8 stages have been won by Brits. You might also realize that 3 of the 4 leaders’ jerseys are held by Brits. You can be assured that Henri Desgrange did not have this state of affairs in mind in 1903.
FOUR THINGS WE KNOW.
1) Mark Cavendish is back.
Cav (Dimension Data) is still proper fast, yet he is not the straight-line “fastest man in the peloton” anymore. The Tour released data that showed in the sprints, he hits just the third or fourth fastest high speed. Of course, that is relative. 73 kph (45.2mph) is fast as Hell. The 74 kph hit by Kittel is fast as Heller.
Mark Cavendish in yellow at the start of stage 2
However, Cav’s superior bike handling skills, honed on the track during the last few months as he preps for the Rio Olympics velodrome events, allow him to maintain his momentum better than his rivals. (You should remember from Physics 201 that momentum is equal to mass times velocity. P=mv.) In his Stage 6 victory, there was a roundabout 700 meters from the finish. Cav was the only sprinter not to lose significant speed through that bottleneck. As a result, whilst second place Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) and third place Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) were able to hit higher speeds, it was still not enough to offset Cav’s more consistent speed.
Cav won three of the first six stages. He moved past 5-time Le Tour champion Bernard Hinault for lifetime stage wins with 29. He now trails only Eddy Merckx, who has 34. As Cav just turned 31, don’t bet against him.
2) Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) should be a Great Britain Olympian.
There are five men on the GB Olympic road race team. Four of them: Chris Froome, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, and Geraint Thomas, are Team Sky riders. The fifth, Adam Yates, rides for Orica-Greenedge. Who selected the team? Rod Ellingworth, the head of performance operations for, wait for it, Team SKY.
Earlier in the season, Cummings won stages in several of the top early season stage races: Critérium du Dauphiné, Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta al País Vasco.
Stephen’s Stage 7 victory was decisive. He dropped Vincenzo Nibali and race leader Greg van Avermaet on the way up the Col d’Aspin like they were blue ice plummeting from a 747.
Stephen Cummings headed for the finish line in stage 7
There is no doubt that as Cummings stood atop the podium following his decisive Stage 7 victory, he was staring daggers at Ellingworth right through the TV screen. Unless Ellingworth was on-site, in which case Stephen Cummings may have done a “How you like me now?!” ride-by.
3) Alberto Contador is tougher than 16 penny nails.
The first few days were not good for Alberto. The man whose last name translates to “accountant” in English crashed early and often. And hard. He rode wisely within himself over the next few days. At the start of Stage 8, he had managed his health so wisely that he was only 1:15 or so behind the presumptive GC leaders. His shoulder was injured in one crash. His leg was injured in another.
Crashes are a part of cycling life, and they are both debilitating and cumulative. The loss of skin, the agony of open nerve endings, trauma to muscle and fascia; a body’s already stressed recovery mechanism is often overwhelmed by the beating dealt out by the tarmac.
Alberto Contador: bruised but unbowed
The greatest stage race rider of our generation, no one should be shocked that Alberto is tough. In 2004, while riding the opening stage of the Vuelta a Asturias for the Liberty Seguros-Würth team, he experienced a health catastrophe that caused him to lose consciousness and collapse on his bike. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and diagnosed with cerebral cavernoma, a congenital brain condition that required a careful dissection of the brain during the operation. The health crisis ended his season, and nearly his career.
His team was nowhere to be seen in the mountains. He received no help whatsoever from the team’s strongest support rider, Roman Kreuziger. In fact, when AC was in a spot of bother near the end, Kreuziger was not told to assist him back into the group. According to team director Sean Yates, Kreuziger was given his head. Could this have anything to do with the news leak that Alberto will sign with Trek-Segafreddo for 2017? Even though Tinkoff is shutting down, who knows what’s going on behind the scenes with Yates, Kreuziger, and other Tinkoff riders?
4) Team SKY is scary strong.
During stage 8, with 18 km to go on the way up the Peyresourde, there was Chris Froome sitting fifth wheel – sitting behind four Team SKY riders. And when Froome went to the front, with 16 km to go, the group of 22 went down to 12 in a minute. Of those 12, three were in SKY kit.
Chris Froome flying down the Peyresourde to the finish and the yellow jersey.
Tactically, C.C. Froomey’s attack on the descent of Peyresourde into Bagneres-de-Luchon was like the Spanish Inquisition; totally unexpected. The downhill attack by the ex-MTB racer was a coolly calculated risk. Of course, tactical acumen means nothing without the legs to see it through to the end. Froome opened up 24 seconds on the Movistar-led peloton inside of 8 downhill kilometers to take the maillot jaune.
A brilliant tactical move that was perfectly executed. It took the strength of the entire team to put the Kenyan into position, and he delivered. This should put to rest the notion that Christopher Clive Froome is not a good bike handler.
For the next few days, Team SKY will do what it does well-sit at the front, beat out a nasty tempo, and dare others to burn their candles in attack.