Tour de France 2012 - The Drama Continues
The Tour de France hasn't been exciting from a sporting standpoint, but we still have drama.
It was getting late in the afternoon here States-side and all seemed quiet at the Tour de France for the second rest day. I was reading about teams doing short training rides and press conferences - the usual. Then Twitter blew up with reports that RadioShack-Nissan's Frank Schleck had an adverse analytical finding in his A sample on July 14th - that's fancy talk for, "he got popped for a specific drug - Xipamide."
Schleck went to the police station to give a statement on how Xipamide, a diuretic, got into his urine. The result was Schleck wisely left the Tour, although according to the UCI's own rules, he could have stayed until his B sample was also analyzed. But it has been very rare that a B sample test result is different than the A sample test result. Regardless, it was best that Schleck left the Tour as his presence would have been a huge distraction to both the team and the race.
Stage 16 was the Queen stage of this year's Tour de France. The day's ride contained two hors category and two category one climbs. And yes we had the breakaway. And because none of the escapees were a threat to the G.C. they were allowed to go.
As the break chugged over the cols it appeared that Cadel Evans was not having a good day. On the Aspin the Australian was dropped. He was dragged back to the yellow jersey group, but with the climb of the Peyresourde remaining it didn't look good for the Australian.
Sure enough on the Peyresourde, Evans was dropped for good. But ahead the break had been reduced to Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) riding solo to the finish line for his second Tour stage win. Just a reminder, Voeckler was complaining of a knee injury prior to the start of the Tour and now he had notched this second stage win. Not only did he get the podium but the Frenchman had accumulated enough King of the Mountain points to take over the mountain jersey.
While France went crazy over Voeckler, Evans trailed in behind Wiggins' group - almost five minutes back. His Tour de France dreams were over.
Stage 17 was the last stand for Vincenzo Nibali and his Liquigas-Cannondale team. The stage was a grab bag of category climbs. The stage started with a category 1 climb (Col de Mente), followed by a category 2 (Col de Ares), then category 3 climb (Cote de Burs). The second half of the stage was a hors category (Port de Bales) climb and then finishing on the category 1 Peyragudes climb.
Another strong solo ride resulted in a stage win. Movistar's Alejandro Valverde escaped from his breakaway and beat second place finisher Froome and Wiggins by 19 seconds.
Honestly a Valverde victory doesn't do anything for me. DNA-testing linked Valverde to the infamous Operation Puerto police investigation. As a result he was suspended for two years starting from 2010 - 2012 was his return back.
I don't have a problem with riders returning after a suspension. I'm just not a believer in a scorched earth approach to a doping problem - on the condition that the rider cooperated with the authorities or at the least was remorseful.
However, Valverde was unrepentant and claims he's innocent against DNA evidence that proves the opposite. So yeah, Valverde gets a polite clap from me as he crossed the finish line. That's not the only drama of the day.
With two kilometers remaining it was Froome and Wiggins leaving the competition behind. Actually let me rephrase that, Froome was leaving the competition behind and Wiggins was holding on for dear life. Froome could be seen gesturing for Wiggo to hold his wheel, but it was clear that he couldn't and Froome was the stronger of the two on the climb. What was embarrassing is Froome was neither helping nor attacking Wiggins. It was a weird. He gained a few yards, looked back and then slowed for Wiggins. That was repeated a couple of times. Finally Wiggins was able to latch on and enjoy a tow to the line, crossing with a huge grin.
If Froome and been given freedom he could have caught Valverde. Instead the Sky leash was pulled taut and he had to settle for second on the day. Sky should have let Froome loose as there was no way he was going to overtake Wiggins in G.C.
Stage 17 showed that Team Sky has two grand tour leaders in its ranks - so how do you keep them both happy? At the very least Froome should get a pay bonus or a new team issue Jaguar. I recommend the XK - that's the model Roadcycling.com purchased for me as a signing bonus and it's very nice. Splurge and get the all leather interior.
Stage 18 was a rolling stage that wasn't going to affect the general classification. It was designed for a breakaway and that's what happened. Twenty-five riders pulled ahead with none of them a danger to Wiggins. In fact Team Sky felt they had this stage so under control that they allowed their rider Edvald Boasson Hagen in the move.
With 13 kilometers remaining, a group of five separated themselves from the breakaway. Their lead was less than 20 seconds, so it looked to be doomed.
At 5 kilometers to go the five riders had less than 10 seconds and at less than a kilometer to go the peloton sucked them up. It was field sprint time. I'd almost forgotten what one of those looks like!
Lo and behold who was leading out Cav - Wiggins! Cavendish had gotten the okay from the team to go for the win and he didn't disappoint. He SMOKED the sprint, roaring past Matthew Gass and Luis Leon Sanchez taking a win by a huge margin. All Sanchez could do was bang his handlebars in frustration.
This begs the question; if competing in the Olympics do you race the Tour de France or race another smaller, shorter stage race like the Tour of Poland leading up to the Olympics?
At the beginning of the Tour, with all the crashes, I mentioned on Twitter that it might have been a wise move by Tom Boonen (racing in the games for his home country of Belgium) to not go to France. I must have jinxed him, as he raced in the Tour of Poland and piled it in, fracturing his sixth rib. Sorry about that Tom...
Previous to Cav's powerful display in stage 18 I was wondering if losing the weight in order to get over the mountains had ruined him. I stand corrected. It's going to be an interesting sprint battle between Greipel, Sagan and Cavendish on the Champs-Elysees this Sunday. I hate predicting stage wins, but if I had to, I'm swinging back to Cavendish. The Manx Missile has shown he's a fighter and without a true leadout train - a la HTC - he still can get it done. I also think this is the top three at the London Olympics road race, but don't hold me to that.
On August 4th there will be another type of vehicle taking over the streets of Covington - bikes. Just 25 miles east of Atlanta this picturesque town will host various rides from 13, 30, 62 and 100 miles. There will be food stops along the way in addition to friendly course marshals to keep you on track. Don't worry if the temperatures get too hot for you, there is SAG support for those who need it. Sign up for the Covington Century Ride online at www.covingtoncenturyride.com.