The Tour de France or Tour de Wiggins?
Already the Tour de France looks to have a winner, but there are still some scraps at the table for the others.
Rest days are a mixed bag. From a sporting standpoint there's nothing to discuss. The riders obviously aren't racing, but they do some excursions to keep the legs moving. Other usual occurrences are teams conducting press conferences and their hotels getting raided by the police.
Not breaking from the usual rest day activities, the French police used their impeccable timing to take into custody French rider Remi de Gregorio of the Cofidis team. He was being questioned in regard to either an investigation into performance enhancing drug use or, according to other sources, part of a cocaine ring he might be involved with. Either way Cofidis quickly issued a press release claiming the usual, "He was acting alone, nothing to do with us and he's suspended immediately and sacked if charges are true." So yeah, pretty much a standard rest day at the Tour de France.
The stage after a rest day can be disastrous for riders as the rhythm of racing every day has been interrupted. You often hear riders complain of "heavy legs" in these stages. That wasn't the case for Europcar's Thomas Voeckler who took a crafty win in stage 10 from Mâcon to Bellegarde sur Valserine.
The stage's first incline was ranked a "mere" category 2. The "piece de resistance" was the hors category Grand Colombier. This is this first time that this climb has been part of the Tour and it made a welcome addition. The helicopter shots showed a sinuous route to the summit - truly a beautiful sight.
The Grand Colombier climb is 17 kilometers long and tops out at an altitude of 1501 meters - a nice hors d'oeuvre for tomorrow's stage which features two hors category and one category 1 climb.
The usual plot of the day followed: a break went up the road which didn't contain any threats to Wiggin's yellow jersey. It was filled with a bunch of no-hopers looking for television time. The break was 25 riders strong and some highlights were: Thomas Voeckler, Peter Sagan, Jens Voigt and Michele Scarponi. In fact 10 of the 25 had won a stage in the Tour de France. These riders were true contenders to take the stage, or in the case of Sagan, consolidate his point standings for the green jersey.
By the time the break was over the top of the Colombier it was down to four riders. One of those was the French housewife favorite Voeckler.
Back in the main group Team Sky continued to show that they were the team to beat. Wiggins was tucked into the front of the bunch surrounded by several teammates. It was impressive.
The quartet still had a five minute lead by the summit, but for Evans and Nibali the descent was an opportunity to separate themselves from Wiggo.
Nibali caught up with his teammate Sagan who then hit the afterburners and they put in over a minute on the Wiggins group. It was for naught as the Sky armada rolled right over them.
Up front it was now five riders still away as crowd favorite Jens Voigt made the junction with 10 kilometers remaining. But in the last kilometer Voeckler attacked and passed both Voigt and the other rider in the break Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Under the red kite Voeckler was gone, taking France's second stage win of this year's Tour de France.
On the surface you'd think Voeckler would be popular. And yes, with the general public he is. His baby face makes him a hit with the French housewives. With commentators he's also very popular because he wears his heart on his sleeve making for an interesting interview. But within the peloton there's another opinion of the Frenchman.
The flicking tongue and elbow, along with his scrunched up face during accelerations, irritates riders who feel he's putting on a show. Also, Voeckler's attacking style, which makes for great television, can screw-up an orderly working breakaway. His Europcar team doesn't get a lot of love either. Earlier this year Cycle Sport Magazine wrote in their interview with Voeckler and a prominent British rider told the publication Europcar doesn't do their share of the work. That will not gain you many friends in the peloton.
Take stage 10 of this year's Tour as an example. Coming into the Tour Voeckler was complaining about his knee and there was a strong chance he wouldn't race in July. But there Tommy was, in the break and repeatedly attacking, finally taking the win with his tongue flicking like a snake.
In a post-race interview he was asked about the knee replying he hadn't been acting about the injury. "My knees hurt, everything hurts, but I couldn't give up."
Regardless of what the professional peloton may or may not think of him, I like his style.
Stage 11 was a true mountain stage. It featured two hors category climbs, a category 2 and finished on La Toussuire, a category 1 mountain. The second hors category mountain is the Col de la Croix de Fer, the highest point on the Tour de France. To commemorate the climb the first rider over the top wins the Henri Desgrange award, a five thousand Euro bonus.
Fabian Cancallara pulled the plug on the Tour by activating the "my wife is pregnant" excuse. In fairness a wife's pregnancy is a good excuse, but it also works out that he can rest up for the Olympics, which are only a couple of weeks away and Fabs is representing Switzerland.
In this new era of professional cycling the killer thrusts into your opponents' exposed underbelly are now reserved for the final climb of the day. Back in the day the attacks from two mountain cols from the finish are a thing of the past. Stage 11's main event was going down on the climb of La Toussuire.
Pierre Rolland (Euopcar) took a back to back stage win for the team, but behind him revealed who was truly a contender. Evans attacked (or more accurately, surged) on the Glandon with his teammate Tejay van Garderen. They were brought back by Team Sky, but the attack did something to liven up our viewing pleasure.
As expected the racing got real on the category 1 summit that took the riders to the finish. Sky's Froome showed that he could be a grand tour leader on a team by leading Wiggins up the climb and then attacking with three kilometers to the line! He was quickly brought to heel and Wiggo actually increased his lead on a couple of rivals such as Denis Menchov, who lost 13 minutes to the Sky rider and his main threat Evans, who lost a little over a minute. Those two riders' dreams of being on the top step in Paris were over.
So, yeah, it was pretty much a standard day of Sky domination. Thankfully we have Twitter to keep us entertained.
Cathy Wiggins, Bradley's wife went to Twitter and publicity thanked Michael Rogers and Richie Porte for their work - noticeably skipping Froome. That did not sit well with Froome's girlfriend Michelle Cound who re-tweeted Cathy's post but included "Typical!" At one point Mark Cavendish's baby momma Peta Todd also accidentally stepped into the fray by thanking Froome. The significant others had picked their sides - Team Froome or Team Wiggins.
Brad stepped in to settle the dispute by thanking Froome on Twitter, but it was too late, the micro-blogging site lite up with guesses as to what Team Froome will transfer to next season.
The Kenyan born rider signed a three year deal last year with Sky, so in theory he's not going anywhere. However, if Wiggins doesn't want him there and Froome is unhappy that might amend the contract. Of course there would have to be a Sugar Daddy to step in to buy out Froome's contract as well.
Regardless of whom Froome rides for next year (I'd put money on him staying with Sky) the dinner with the wives and girlfriends in Paris will be very awkward. I see a lot of finger pointing and at least two glasses of red wine thrown on each other.
Stage 12 was a yawner. It was the longest stage of the tour at 226 kilometers. Five riders who were no threat to the general classification broke away and gained a lead of 12 minutes. Back in the peloton Sky lead the "chasing" group, but it was obvious that the stage win was going to come from one of the five.
On the five kilometer climb to the finish line the five riders did a lot of serving about. With two kilometers to go David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) leapt away.
In a well-timed sprint Millar took the stage and collapsed on the tarmac after the finish line. This was a much needed win for Garmin-Sharp. His stage win comes on the 45 year anniversary of Tom Simpson's death, making a fitting tribute. (Read our review of David Millar's new book Racing Through The Dark here).
As the stage wrapped up and the jerseys were handed out word got out that the Sky riders, at the start of the day, stayed in their bus to avoid the press. The Twitter tussle with the significant others and questions being raised regarding team Sky's doctor Geert Leinders. Doctor Leinders worked for Rabobank during the 2007 Tour when Michael Rasmussen was fired, in addition to being kicked out of the Tour de France due to violating the UCI's whereabouts rule - a stipulation that requires athletes to register with the governing body their location. It's a LoJack system but for athletes. All of this made answering ugly doping questions from the press something to be avoided. This resistance to answering questions and hiding in the team bus is reminiscent of another team that dominated the Tour. Hopefully that's where the comparison will end.
While accusations and doping innuendo swirled around Wiggins and his team, he posted a column in the Guardian UK responding to the accusations. I thought it was a well written piece and it gave me pause. I'm hoping what he wrote is true and Sky becomes more transparent. We'll have to wait until Paris.
Covington, Georgia is known as the filming location for the iconic television show, The Dukes of Hazard. However, the town wants to be known for more than being the location of downtown of Hazard County.
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.