The Tour de France or the Tour de Bore
I'm already calling it - Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France 2012.
It was another usual day in the Tour de France: the peloton rolls out of town, a breakaway is formed, they are caught and the bunch sprint is activated.
Sure not the most riveting of days, but the sprinters deserve a chance at some glory after a couple of days in the mountains.
On paper stage 13 looked "easy," but the finish line was at the top of a short climb that Bjarne Riis described as "heavy." In fact the average gradient was ten percent. And then there are the crosswinds which could rip the peloton apart. There truly are no easy days on the Tour.
With less than a kilometer remaining Bradley Wiggins lead out his guy Edvald Boasson Hagen. But there was no stopping the sprinter they affectionately call "the gorilla" - Monsieur Andre Greipel of Germany.
With a throw to the line Greipel pipped Peter Sagan for the stage win - his third in this year's Tour de France and 16th victory of the year.
While Boasson Hagen got the lead-out from his boss, Team Sky's marquee sprinter Mark Cavendish trailed in eight minutes later. Remember that Cav was trying to cut weight like a runway model in the hopes of getting over the climbs. That's not working out as the Manx Missile was a dud on the category 3 climb that lead up to the finish. I say it's time for Cav to hit the cake shop and put on a few kilos.
Stage 14 from Limoux to Foix was also a day that on paper didn't seem like it would shake up the G.C. Yet due to an act of vandals it could have reshaped the 2012 Tour de France.
A break of five, at their maximum got a 15 minute advantage on the main peloton. None of the riders were a threat to Bradley Wiggin's yellow jersey, so they were allowed an extra-long leash. Peter Sagan had wisely infiltrated the breakaway to ensure himself more points in that competition.
The five crested the final climb of the day, the category 1 Mur de Peguere. The stage winner was undoubtedly going to be one of these riders. The television cameras returned to the main peloton and I had to rub my eyes in disbelief - Mark Cavendish was at the front of the peloton setting the tempo on the climb!
My immediate thought was this is a sign of the apocalypse! Cav, AKA The Manx Missile, is not a climber. He proved that yesterday in no uncertain terms. But lo and behold, there he was. However, just before I rushed to my basement with emergency rations as I fully expected the dead to rise or for it to start raining frogs, Cav popped and disappeared out of view. Yes, it looked like things were returning to normal - or were they?
As the peloton went over the top of the climb Cadel Evans suddenly pulled over - he had a rear flat. His teammate Tejay van Garderen hadn't noticed his team leader's predicament and was ahead on the descent. A team soigneur stood beside Evans waiting for a wheel. After what must have seemed like forever to Evans a teammate screeched to a halt in front of him. However, he had a rear flat too! What was going on?
It turns out that vandals had thrown down large tacks onto the road and it was reported that up to 30 riders suffered punctures. Cue CSI Foix!
Wiggins showed his leadership and commanded that the peloton slow down to allow Evans, and those who had also punctured, to catch back to the group.
This act of group leadership and the unwritten rules of the road is what I wrote about last week here on Roadcycling.com. In this case it is considered ‘bad form' to take advantage of a contender's bad luck. And Wiggins knew that with the strange amount of punctures something odd had occurred.
But there's always that one guy who just doesn't get it. Going off the front was Team Europcar's Pierre Rolland. Because of his top ten on the G.C. he couldn't be allowed too much of a lead, so Lotto Belisol and Liquigas-Cannondale were forced to chase, much to the consternation of BMC Racing Team who were still bringing back Evans.
Rolland was quickly caught and normalcy returned to the peloton. Don't expect Rolland to receive any help in the near future, no matter how many times he said he didn't know what had happened. Yeah, I call total B.S. on that excuse.
Up the road the group of five breakaway riders were fighting it out for the stage win. Sagan looked to be the heavy favorite to take the honors and Luis Leon Sanchez, who was a member of the break, knew it.
Just as Sagan grabbed a bottle, Sanchez attacked. The others in the group knew it was up to the Liquigas-Cannondale rider to chase. He was the strongest and would take the stage win if they arrived in Foix together, so why help?
Sanchez held off the chase for the stage win and not unexpectedly Sagan out-sprinted his companions for second place, further cementing his lead in the green jersey competition. Barring a crash, Sagan was the winner of this competition. Eighteen minutes later the main group came sprinting to the line with no change to the general classification. Wiggins and Team Sky still had a strangle hold on the 2012 Tour de France.
Stage 15 was more of the same - minus the tacks. A break of five got away and the peloton couldn't care. With two kilometers remaining two of the escapees, Christian Vande Velde and Pierrick Fedrigo, left their partners-in-crime behind. Fedrigo was the better sprinter and no matter the fact that Vande Velde maneuvered the French rider in front of him in the last 500 meters it wasn't going to be the Garmin-Sharp rider's day.
I'm not going to go out on a limb by saying that barring a disaster Bradley Wiggins is going to win the 2012 Tour de France. The Englishman has shown no sign of cracking and neither has his Sky team. The boys in blue and black are riding smartly at the front and each and every member of the team knows their whole reason for doing so is to protect the yellow. Cavendish, who in the past has had the luxury of having a full train to help him in Tour stages, has been reduced to jumping on trains and fighting for position with minimal help. As a result he's got only one stage win to his credit in this year's Tour. Cav's former team, HTC, never had a true Tour de France G.C. leader, so he had a full complement of teammates at his disposal. Chris Froome, who arguably could also battle for the overall win in this Tour, knows that too. Also, stage 19 is a 53 kilometer race against the clock - another opportunity for Wiggins to pad additional time to his lead.
Froome told L'Equipe that he hopes that Sky will help him win the Tour one day if the course will suit him. Yeah, I wouldn't expect that happening anytime soon Chris.
With Wiggins' victory in less than a week he only solidifies his place as leader on Team Sky. It would have to be a massive Wiggo meltdown that would allow Froome to become a leader. The best Sky can do is throw Froome a bone and send a ‘B' squad with him to the 2012 Vuelta a Espana - stay tuned to us here at Roadcycling.com to find out how this works out.
So I'm going to say this once and own it: This Tour de France has been boring. There have been some moments of excitement - a Sagan victory salute or Sanchez taking a cagy stage win. But we've only had two different yellow jersey wearers. Like I mentioned earlier, Sagan has wrapped up his competition. The climbers' jersey could still flip flop to another rider, but that's it. So what can the A.S.O. do to make this a bit more exciting?
First off - change the prologue to a road stage with time bonuses. In fact all the sprint road stages should have time bonuses. This way we still determine a leader, but the riders at the front end of that classification are within spitting distance of taking the leadership, thereby creating some kind of battle for yellow. Case in point: Cancellara killed the prologue, which effectively ruined any chance of a sprinter taking the yellow in any following stages. Cavendish was already 23 seconds back by the end of the day in Liege. If there had been some time bonuses, Cav or any of the other sprinters could have snatched it away from Fabs. This would have created a different strategy for RadioShack-Nissan as they would have had to be proactive rather than just keeping it together for the sprint and thereby keeping the yellow on Cancellara's back. The Shack would have had to have been on the attack to ensure Fabian had enough time to stay ahead of the teams with sprinters.
Also, consult with the Giro d'Italia for stage design. That national grand tour was interesting with leadership changes that kept us wondering if Ryder Hesjedal would win the overall. By the Tour's stage 9 time trial in Arc et Senans, with Wiggins crushing the competition, the Tour was a done deal.
That said, we have another week of racing and Wiggins still needs to get to Paris and if history is any indicator Evans won't be giving up anytime soon.
Since Wiggins is winning the Tour de France, why not sign up for the cycling training diary service he's using? You can do so right here.
Tour de Random
The police are investigating who threw down the tacks in stage 14, but I doubt they will discover the perpetrators. Call in Inspector Clouseau!
Peter Sagan is officially what the kids call a ‘baller.' Not only can he pull off wheelies on a road bike (which forever makes him cool) but at the start of stage 15 a lady had Sagan autograph her chest - very rock & roll.
Random observation: The aero helmets that were on the heads of Garmin-Sharp in the first several stages haven't made an appearance in the second week.
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.